India Physical Environment-Class XI (CHAPTER 4-CLIMATE)

  • Weather is the momentary state of the atmosphere while climate refers to the average of the weather conditions over a longer period of time. Weather changes quickly, may be within a day or week but climate changes imperceptively and may be noted after 50 years or even more 
  • Monsoon connotes the climate associated with seasonal reversal in the direction of winds. India has hot monsoonal climate which is the prevalent climate in south and southeast Asia.


  • can be broadly divided into two groups — factors related to location and relief, and factors related to air pressure and winds.

Factors related to Location and Relief-

  1. Latitude – Northern part of the India lies in sub-tropical and temperate zone and the part lying south of the Tropic of Cancer falls in the tropical zone. The tropical zone being nearer to the equator, experiences high temperatures throughout the year with small daily and annual range. Area north of the Tropic of Cancer being away from the equator experiences extreme climate with high daily and annual range of temperature.
  2. The Himalayan Mountains : The lofty Himalayas in the north along with its extensions act as an effective climatic divide. The towering mountain chain provides an invincible shield to protect the subcontinent from the cold northern winds. The Himalayas also trap the monsoon winds, forcing them to shed their moisture within the subcontinent
  3. Distribution of Land and Water : India is flanked by the Indian Ocean on three sides in the south and girdled by a high and continuous mountain-wall in the north. As compared to the landmass, water heats up or cools down slowly. This differential heating of land and sea creates different air pressure zones in different seasons in and around the Indian subcontinent. Difference in air pressure causes reversal in the direction of monsoon winds. 
  4. Distance from the Sea : With a long coastline, large coastal areas have an equable climate. Areas in the interior of India are far away from the moderating influence of the sea. Such areas have extremes of climate.
  5. Altitude : Temperature decreases with height. Due to thin air, places in the mountains are cooler than places on the plains.
  6. Relief : The physiography or relief of India also affects the temperature, air pressure, direction and speed of wind and the amount and distribution of rainfall. The windward sides of Western Ghats and Assam receive high rainfall during June-September whereas the southern plateau remains dry due to its leeward situation along the Western Ghats. 

Factors Related to Air Pressure and Wind

  1. Distribution of air pressure and winds on the surface of the earth
  2. Upper air circulation caused by factors controlling global weather and the inflow of different air masses and jet streams
  3. Inflow of western cyclones generally known as disturbances during the winter season and tropical depressions during the south-west monsoon period into India, creating weather conditions favourable to rainfall.

Mechanism of Weather in the Winter Season

  • Surface Pressure and Winds : In winter months, the weather conditions over India are generally influenced by the distribution of pressure in Central and Western Asia. A high pressure centre in the region lying to the north of the Himalayas develops during winter. This centre of high pressure gives rise to the flow of air at the low level from the north towards the Indian subcontinent, south of the mountain range. The surface winds blowing out of the high pressure centre over Central Asia reach India in the form of a dry continental air mass. These continental winds come in contact with trade winds over northwestern India. 
  • Jet Stream and Upper Air Circulation : Higher up in the lower troposphere, about three km above the surface of the earth, a different pattern of air circulation is observed. The variations in the atmospheric pressure closer to the surface of the earth have no role to play in the making of upper air circulation. 
  • All of Western and Central Asia remains under the influence of westerly winds along the altitude of 9-13 km from west to east. These winds blow across the Asian continent at latitudes north of the Himalayas roughly parallel to the Tibetan highlands. These are known as jet streams. branch blows in an eastward direction, south of the Himalayas. It has its mean position at 25°N in February at 200-300 mb level. It is believed that this southern branch of the jet stream exercises an important influence on the winter weather in India.

Direction of Winds in India in Winter at the Height of 9-13 km

  • Western Cyclonic Disturbance and Tropical Cyclones : The western cyclonic disturbances which enter the Indian subcontinent from the west and the northwest during the winter months, originate over the Mediterranean Sea and are brought into India by the westerly jet stream. An increase in the prevailing night temperature generally indicates an advance in the arrival of these cyclones disturbances.
  • Tropical cyclones originate over the Bay of Bengal and the Indian ocean. These tropical cyclones have very high wind velocity and heavy rainfall and hit the Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa coast. Most of these cyclones are very destructive due to high wind velocity and torrential rain that accompanies.

Mechanism of Weather in the Summer Season

  • Surface Pressure and Winds : As the summer sets in and the sun shifts northwards, the wind circulation over the subcontinent undergoes a complete reversal at both, the lower as well as the upper levels. By the middle of July, the low pressure belt nearer the surface [termed as Inter Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ)] shifts northwards, By this time, the westerly jet stream withdraws from the Indian region. 
  • It is generally believed that there is a cause and effect relationship between the ictz and jet stream . The ITCZ being a zone of low pressure, attracts inflow of winds from different directions. The maritime tropical airmass (mT) from the southern hemisphere, after crossing the equator, rushes to the low pressure area in the general southwesterly direction. It is this moist air current which is popularly known as the southwest monsoon. 
  • Jet Streams and Upper Air Circulation :. An easterly jet stream flows over the southern part of the Peninsula in June, and has a maximum speed of 90 km per hour. In August, it is confined to 15oN latitude, and in September up to 22o N latitudes. The easterlies normally do not extend to the north of 30o N latitude in the upper atmosphere. 
  • Easterly Jet Stream and Tropical Cyclones : The easterly jet stream steers the tropical depressions into India. These depressions play a significant role in the distribution of monsoon rainfall over the Indian subcontinent. The tracks of these depressions are the areas of highest rainfall in India. The frequency at which these depressions visit India, their direction and intensity, all go a long way in determining the rainfall pattern during the southwest monsoon period.

The Inter Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ)

  • a low pressure zone located at the equator where trade winds converge, and so, it is a zone where air tends to ascend.
  • In July, the ITCZ is located around 20°N-25°N latitudes (over the Gangetic plain), sometimes called the monsoon trough.
  • This monsoon trough encourages the development of thermal low over north and northwest India.
  • Due to the shift of ITCZ, the trade winds of the southern hemisphere cross the equator between 40° and 60°E longitudes and start blowing from southwest to northeast due to the Coriolis force. It becomes southwest monsoon.
  • In winter, the ITCZ moves southward, and so the reversal of winds from northeast to south and southwest, takes place. They are called northeast monsoons.


Monsoon Onset of the Monsoon

  • During April and May when the sun shines vertically over the Tropic of Cancer, the large landmass in the north of Indian ocean gets intensely heated. This causes the formation of an intense low pressure in the northwestern part of the subcontinent. 
  • Since the pressure in the Indian Ocean in the south of the landmass is high as water gets heated slowly, the low pressure cell attracts the southeast trades across the Equator.
  • These conditions help in the northward shift in the position of the ITCZ. The southwest monsoon may thus, be seen as a continuation of the southeast trades deflected towards the Indian subcontinent after crossing the Equator. These winds cross the Equator between 40°E and 60°E longitudes. 
  • Entry of Monsoon into India : The southwest monsoon sets in over the Kerala coast .

Rain-bearing Systems and Rainfall Distribution

There seem to be two rain-bearing systems in India.

  1. in the Bay of Bengal causing rainfall over the plains of north India. 
  2. the Arabian Sea current of the south- west monsoon which brings rain to the west coast of India. Much of the rainfall along the Western Ghats is orographic as the moist air is obstructed and forced to rise along the Ghats. The intensity of rainfall over the west coast of India is, however, related to two factors:

(i) The offshore meteorological conditions.

(ii) The position of the equatorial jet stream along the eastern coast of Africa.

EI-Nino and the Indian Monsoon

  • EI-Nino is a complex weather system that appears once every three to seven years, bringing drought, floods and other weather extremes to different parts of the world.

  • The system involves oceanic and atmospheric phenomena with the appearance of warm currents off the coast of Peru in the Eastern Pacific and affects weather in many places including India.
  • EI-Nino is merely an extension of the warm equatorial current which gets replaced temporarily by cold Peruvian current or Humbolt current (locate these currents in your atlas). This current increases the temperature of water on the Peruvian coast by 10°C. This results in:

(i) the distortion of equatorial atmospheric circulation;

(ii) irregularities in the evaporation of sea water;

(iii) reduction in the amount of planktons which further reduces the number of fish in the sea.

  • The word EI-Nino means Child Christ‘ because this current appears around Christmas in December. December is a summer month in Peru (Southern Hemisphere). EI-Nino is used in India for forecasting long range monsoon rainfall. In 1990-91, there was a wild EI-Nino event and the onset of southwest monsoon was delayed over most parts of the country ranging from five to twelve days.

Break in the Monsoon

  • During the south-west monsoon period after having rains for a few days, if rain fails to occur for one or more weeks, it is known as break in the monsoon. These dry spells are quite common during the rainy season. These breaks in the different regions are due to different reasons:

(i) In northern India rains are likely to fail if the rain-bearing storms are not very frequent along the monsoon trough or the ITCZ over this region.

(ii) Over the west coast the dry spells are associated with days when winds blow parallel to the coast.


The climatic conditions of India can best be described in terms of an annual cycle of

(i) the cold weather season

(ii) the hot weather season

(iii) the southwest monsoon season

(iv) the retreating monsoon season

The Cold Weather Season

1-Temperature : Usually, the cold weather season sets in by mid-November in northern India. December and January are the coldest months in the northern plain. There are three main reasons for the excessive cold in north India during this season :

(i) States like Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan being far away from the moderating influence of sea experience continental climate.

(ii) The snowfall in the nearby Himalayan ranges creates cold wave situation;

(iii) Around February, the cold winds coming from the Caspian Sea and Turkmenistan bring cold wave along with frost and fog over the northwestern parts of India

The Peninsular region of India, however, does not have any well-defined cold weather season. There is hardly any seasonal change in the distribution pattern of the temperature in coastal areas because of moderating influence of the sea and the proximity to equator.

2- Pressure and Winds : By the end of December (22nd December), the sun shines vertically over the Tropic of Capricorn in the southern hemisphere. The weather in this season is characterised by feeble high pressure conditions over the northern plain.

3-Rainfall : Winter monsoons do not cause rainfall as they move from land to the sea. It is because firstly, they have little humidity; and secondly, due to anti cyclonic circulation on land, the possibility of rainfall from them reduces. So, most parts of India do not have rainfall in the winter season.

However, there are some exceptions to it

(i) 1-In northwestern India, some weak temperate cyclones from the Mediterranean sea cause rainfall in Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and western Uttar Pradesh. Although the amount is meagre, it is highly beneficial for rabi crops. The precipitation is in the form of snowfall in the lower Himalayas. It is this snow that sustains the flow of water in the Himalayan rivers during the summer months.

(ii) During October and November, northeast monsoon while crossing over the Bay of Bengal, picks up moisture and causes torrential rainfall over the Tamil Nadu coast, southern Andhra Pradesh, southeast Karnataka and southeast Kerala.

The Hot Weather Season

1. Temperature: With the apparent northward movement of the sun towards the Tropic of Cancer in March, temperatures start rising in north India. April, May and June are the months of summer in north India.

In the coastal regions, the north-south extent of isotherms parallel to the coast confirms that temperature does not decrease from north to south rather it increases from the coast to the interior.

2. Pressure and Winds: The summer months are a period of excessive heat and falling air pressure in the northern half of the country. Because of the heating of the subcontinent, the ITCZ moves northwards occupying a position centered at 25°N in July.


  • increase of temperature in May over the northwestern plains, the low pressure conditions over there get further intensified. By early June, they are powerful enough to attract the trade winds of Southern Hemisphere coming from the Indian Ocean. These southeast trade winds cross the equator and enter the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea, . Passing over the equatorial warm currents, they bring with them moisture in abundance. After crossing the equator, they follow a southwesterly direction. That is why they are known as southwest monsoons.
  • The rain in the southwest monsoon season begins rather abruptly. One result of the first rain is that it brings down the temperature substantially. This sudden onset of the moisture-laden winds associated with violent thunder and lightening, is often termed as the ―break or ―burst of the monsoons.

The monsoon approaches the landmass in two branches:

(i) The Arabian Sea branch

(ii) The Bay of Bengal branch.

Monsoon Winds of the Arabian Sea

The monsoon winds originating over the Arabian Sea further split into three branches:

(i) Its one branch is obstructed by the Western Ghats. These winds climb the slopes of the Western Ghats from 900-1200 m. Soon, they become cool, and as a result, the windward side of the Sahyadris and Western Coastal Plain receive very heavy rainfall ranging between 250 cm and 400 cm. After crossing the Western Ghats, these winds descend and get heated up. This reduces humidity in the winds. As a result, these winds cause little rainfall east of the Western Ghats. This region of low rainfall is known as the rain-shadow area.

(ii) Another branch of the Arabian sea monsoon strikes the coast north of Mumbai. Moving along the Narmada and Tapi river valleys, these winds cause rainfall in extensive areas of central India. The Chotanagpur plateau gets 15 cm rainfall from this part of the branch. Thereafter, they enter the Ganga plains and mingle with the Bay of Bengal branch.

(iii) A third branch of this monsoon wind strikes the Saurashtra Peninsula and the Kachchh. It then passes over west Rajasthan and along the Aravalis, causing only a scanty rainfall.

Monsoon Winds of the Bay of Bengal

  • The Bay of Bengal branch strikes the coast of Myanmar and part of southeast Bangladesh. But the Arakan Hills along the coast of Myanmar deflect a big portion of this branch towards the Indian subcontinent. The monsoon, therefore, enters West Bengal and Bangladesh from south and southeast instead of from the south-westerly direction.

  • From here, this branch splits into two under the influence of the Himalayas and the thermal low is northwest India. Its one branch moves westward along the Ganga plains reaching as far as the Punjab plains. The other branch moves up the Brahmaputra valley in the north and the northeast, causing widespread rains. Its subbranch strikes the Garo and Khasi hills of Meghalaya. Mawsynram, located on the crest of Khasi hills, receives the highest average annual rainfall in the world.
  • Here it is important to know why the Tamil Nadu coast remains dry during this season. There are two factors responsible for it: 

(i) The Tamil Nadu coast is situated parallel to the Bay of Bengal branch of southwest monsoon.

(ii) It lies in the rainshadow area of the Arabian Sea branch of the south-west monsoon.

Characteristics of Monsoonal Rainfall

(i) Rainfall received from the southwest monsoons is seasonal in character, which occurs between June and September.

(ii) Monsoonal rainfall is largely governed by relief or topography. For instance the windward side of the Western Ghats register a rainfall of over 250 cm.

(iii) The monsoon rainfall has a declining trend with increasing distance from the sea.

(iv) The monsoon rains occur in wet spells of few days duration at a time. The wet spells are interspersed with rainless interval known as breaks.

(v) The summer rainfall comes in a heavy downpour leading to considerable run off and soil erosion.

(vi) Monsoons play a pivotal role in the agrarian economy of India because over three-fourths of the total rain in the country is received during the south- west monsoon season.

(vii) Its spatial distribution is also uneven which ranges from 12 cm to more than 250 cm.

(viii) The beginning of the rains sometimes is considerably delayed over the whole or a part of the country.

(ix) The rains sometimes end considerably earlier than usual, causing great damage to standing crops and making the sowing of winter crops difficult

Season of Retreating Monsoon

  • The months of October and November are known for retreating monsoons.
  • By the end of September, the southwest monsoon becomes weak as the low pressure trough of the Ganga plain starts moving southward in response to the southward march of the sun.
  • The retreating southwest monsoon season is marked by clear skies and rise in temperature. The land is still moist. Owing to the conditions of high temperature and humidity, the weather becomes rather oppressive. This is commonly known as the October heat
  • The weather in the retreating monsoon is dry in north India but it is associated with rain in the eastern part of the Peninsula. Here, October and November are the rainiest months of the year.
  • The widespread rain in this season is associated with the passage of cyclonic depressions which originate over the Andaman Sea and manage to cross the eastern coast of the southern Peninsula. 
  • These tropical cyclones are very destructive. The thickly populated deltas of the Godavari, Krishna and Kaveri are their preferred targets. Every year cyclones bring disaster here.
  • A few cyclonic storms also strike the coast of West Bengal, Bangladesh and Myanmar. A bulk of the rainfall of the Coromondal coast is derived from these depressions and cyclones.
  • Such cyclonic storms are less frequent in the Arabian Sea. 

Distribution of Rainfall

The average annual rainfall in India is about 125 cm, but it has great spatial variations

  • Areas of High Rainfall : The highest rainfall occurs along the west coast, on the Western Ghats, as well as in the sub-Himalayan areas is the northeast and the hills of Meghalaya. Here the rainfall exceeds 200 cm. In some parts of Khasi and Jaintia hills, the rainfall exceeds 1,000 cm. In the Brahmaputra valley and the adjoining hills, the rainfall is less then 200 cm.
  • Areas of Medium Rainfall : Rainfall between 100-200 cm is received in the southern parts of Gujarat, east Tamil Nadu, northeastern Peninsula covering Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar, eastern Madhya Pradesh, northern Ganga plain along the sub-Himalayas and the Cachar Valley and Manipur.
  • Areas of Low Rainfall : Western Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, eastern Rajasthan, Gujarat and Deccan Plateau receive rainfall between 50-100 cm. 
  • Areas of Inadequate Rainfall: Parts of the Peninsula, especially in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra, Ladakh and most of western Rajasthan receive rainfall below 50 cm. Snowfall is restricted to the Himalayan region.

Climatic Regions of India

Major climatic types of India based on Koeppen‘s scheme: Koeppen based his scheme of Climatic classification on monthly values of temperature and precipitation. He identified five major climatic types, namely:

(i) Tropical climates, where mean monthly temperature throughout the year is over 18°C.

(ii) Dry climates, where precipitation is very low in comparison to temperature, and hence, dry. If dryness is less, it is semi arid (S); if it is more, the climate is arid(W.

(iii) Warm temperate climates, where mean temperature of the coldest month is between 18°C and minus 3°C.

(iv) Cool temperate climates, where mean temperature of the warmest month is over 10°C, and mean temperature of the coldest month is under minus 3°C.

(v) Ice climates, where mean temperature of the warmest month is under 10°C.

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