Climate Dynamics, 2011,
37 (3-4), p. 493-507 ISSN 0930-7575
Most of the annual rainfall over India occurs during the Southwest (June-September) and Northeast (October-December) monsoon periods. In March 2008, however, Southern peninsular India and Sri Lanka received the largest rainfall anomaly on record since 1979, with amplitude comparable to summer-monsoon interannual anomalies. This anomalous rainfall appeared to be modulated at intraseasonal timescale by the Madden Julian Oscillation, and was synchronous with a decaying La Nia event in the Pacific Ocean. Was this a coincidence or indicative of a teleconnection pattern? In this paper, we explore factors controlling rainfall over southern India and Sri Lanka between January and April, i.e. outside of the southwest and northeast monsoons. This period accounts for 20% of annual precipitation over Sri Lanka and 10% over the southern Indian states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Interannual variability is strong (about 40% of the January-April climatology). Intraseasonal rainfall anomalies over southern India and Sri Lanka are significantly associated with equatorial eastward propagation, characteristic of the Madden Julian Oscillation. At the interannual timescale, we find a clear connection with El Nio-Southern Oscillation (ENSO); with El Nios being associated with decreased rainfall (correlation of -0.46 significant at the 98% level). There is also a significant link with local SST anomalies over the Indian Ocean, and in particular with the inter-hemispheric sea surface temperature (SST) gradient over the Indian Ocean (with colder SST south of the equator being conducive to more rainfall, correlation of 0.55 significant at the 99% level). La Nias/cold SSTs south of the equator tend to have a larger impact than El Nios. We discuss two possible mechanisms that could explain these statistical relationships: (1) subsidence over southern India remotely forced by Pacific SST anomalies; (2) impact of ENSO-forced regional Indian Ocean SST anomalies on convection. However, the length of the observational record does not allow distinguishing between these two mechanisms in a statistically significant manner.