By Rajendra Jadhav
MUMBAI (Reuters) - Monsoon rains in India, the world's second-biggest producer of rice and sugar, could fall below average this year, in the absence of the La Nina weather pattern, two senior officials at the state-run weather department said on Wednesday.
Rainfall in September could be up to 15 percent less than average, said two officials from the India Meteorological Department (IMD), who could not be identified because they are not authorized to speak to the media.
This year's below average rains, after two straight years of drought, could cut yields of summer-sown crops that are currently ripening for harvesting and also hit the planting of winter-sown crops like wheat and chickpeas.
Last month, the IMD forecast above average monsoon rains, crucial for watering nearly half of the country's farmlands that lack irrigation facilities.
The IMD had forecast surplus rains in August and September, largely because of the La Nina, a weather phenomenon that cools the waters of the Pacific Ocean off the coast of South America that typically causes stronger monsoons across Asia, said one of the senior IMD officials.
"La Nina didn't develop. Instead we got lower rains in the second half," the official said.
Since the start of the monsoon season on June 1, rains have been 5 percent below average.
"Our forecast of a surplus rainfall has gone wrong," D. S. Pai, IMD's head of the long range forecast, confirmed to Reuters. "We will receive less than 100 percent rainfall this season."
India's weather office defines average, or normal, rainfall as between 96 percent and 104 percent of a 50-year average of 89 cm for the entire four-month season. The IMD in August forecast monsoon rains at 106 percent or above normal.
Last week, a U.S. government weather forecaster said La Nina conditions were no longer likely to develop during the Northern Hemisphere fall and winter 2016/17. In June, the agency said there was a 75 percent chance La Nina would develop.
(Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)