A monsoon is a seasonal wind pattern that lasts for several months and results in heavy rainfall during the summer and dry spells in the winter. It is responsible for the wet and dry seasons throughout much of the tropics. Typically Indian monsoon lasts from June-September, with large areas of western and central India receiving more than 90% of their total annual precipitation during the period. The word comes from the Arabic ‘mausin’ which means season and was first used in the English language during the British occupation of India.

What causes a monsoon?

A monsoon (from the Arabic mawsim, which means “season”) arises due to a difference in temperatures between a land mass and the adjacent ocean, according to the National Weather Service. The sun warms the land and ocean differently, according to Southwest Climate Change, causing the winds to play “tug of war” eventually switching directions bringing the cooler, moister air from over the ocean. The winds reverse again at the end of the monsoon season.

Wet versus dry

A wet monsoon typically occurs during the summer months (about April through September) bringing heavy rains, according to National Geographic. On average, approximately 75 percent of India’s annual rainfall and about 50 percent of the North American monsoon region (according to a 2004 NOAA study) comes during the summer monsoon season. The wet monsoon begins when winds bringing cooler, more humid air from above the oceans to the land, as described above.

A dry monsoon typically occurs between October and April. Instead of coming from the oceans, the winds tend to come from drier, warmer climates such as from Mongolia and northwestern China down into India, according to National Geographic. Dry monsoons tend to be less powerful than their summer counterparts. Edward Guinan, an astronomy and meteorology professor at Villanova University, states that the winter monsoon occurs when “the land cools off faster than the water and a high pressure develops over the land, blocking any ocean air from penetrating.” This leads to a dry period.

The winds and rains

The monsoon season varies in strength each year bringing periods of lighter rains and heavier rains as well as slower wind speeds and higher wind speeds. The Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology has compiled data showing yearly rainfalls across India for the last 145 years.

According to the data, the intensity of a monsoon varies over an average of period of 30 – 40 years. In each period, the amount of rain received is higher than average resulting in many floods or lower than average resulting in droughts. The long-term data suggest that the monsoon trends may turn from being in a low rain period that began in approximately 1970 to a higher rain period. Current records for 2016 indicate that total rainfall between June 1 and September 30 is 97.3 percent of the seasonal normal.

The most rain during a monsoon season, according to Guinan, was in Cherrapunji, in the state of Meghalaya in India between 1860 and 1861 when the region received 26,470 millimeters (1,047 inches) of rain. The area with the highest average annual total (which was observed over a ten year period) is Mawsynram, also in Meghalaya, with an average of 11,872 millimeters (467.4 inches) of rain.

The average wind speeds in Meghalaya during peak summer monsoon season average 4 kilometers per second and typically vary between 1 and 7 kilometers per hour, according to Meteoblue. During the winter months, wind speeds typically vary between 2 and 8 kilometers per hour with an average of 4 – 5 kilometers per hour.

Credit : Live science 

Picture Credit : Google 

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