Indian Weather | Making of a Monsoon | Rain of Life and Death | Resources

Southwestern India is one of the hottest places on earth.
Indian Weather

In late spring, the grassy plains and forested hillsides of southwestern India are among the hottest places on earth, with temperatures regularly edging above 100 degrees. In the stifling heat, "nature seems to be frozen in time," writes Indian short story author Shantipriya. "The air is on fire and the leaves are perfectly still as if holding their breath." Still, he writes, "there is a curious sense of anticipation."

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That is because Indians know that as the baking-hot air around them rises high into the sky, it slowly sucks in a blanket of cool, moist air from the nearby ocean. As the two great air masses collide each June, the once still leaves begin to flutter in the arriving sea winds. The sky darkens as the sun disappears beneath a blanket of scudding clouds. Then, seemingly in an instant, sheets of rain are gushing across the parched landscape. The heavy, spattering raindrops announce the arrival of the life-giving monsoon: the weather system that is the subject of this week's NATURE program, MONSOON.

"With its life-giving rain and its wild storms, the monsoon is a mixed blessing: whimsical, unpredictable and unmistakably Indian," says Shantipriya. It is also a breathtaking spectacle that annually shapes the lives of both the people of India and the country's wildlife. In remarkable vignettes filmed across the enormous nation, MONSOON documents the vast influence wielded by India's monsoon, which climate scientists call one of the most intense annual weather events in the world.

Many Indians fear the monsoon's deadly floods, which regularly sweep away unlucky communities. But farmers also rely on it to coax their crops from the soil. Indeed, without the monsoon's storms, which can deliver up to 90 percent of a year's rainfall, almost a billion people would go hungry.

But people aren't alone in celebrating the arrival of the monsoon, which begins each June and ends in September. India's Lion-tailed macaques, for instance, make their homes in mountain forests that receive up to 20 feet of monsoon rain each year. The rains spur the growth of the sweet tropical fruits and hearty seeds that the macaques, featured in MONSOON, need to survive. Similarly, Indian elephants feast upon the fresh grass shoots nourished by the monsoon, while a host of birds flock to the lengthening stems to build their nests.

Birds

Animals and humans alike await the monsoon.

But, as MONSOON hilariously shows, the growing grass creates an interesting romantic challenge for at least one bird: the Lesser florican, a chicken-sized resident of monsoon-drenched meadows. To find a mate before the moist grasses give way to another dry season, the male florican must display his pluck and prowess for an admiring female. But the small bird is invisible in tall grass. The solution? Every three minutes -- and up to 400 times a day -- the florican leaps above the stem-tops in the hopes of catching the eye of a mate. In a series of remarkable scenes and slow-motion shots, MONSOON captures the gangly champion jumper in mid-leap.

Gharial crocodile

Gharial crocodiles spawn at monsoon time.

The giant gharial crocodile of north India, which can grow to 23 feet, is also at the mercy of the monsoon. Monsoon floods create the moist, sandy riverbanks where the crocodiles lay their eggs. Indeed, local legend claims that gharial reproduction is so linked to the monsoon that it is the sound of thunder that cracks the eggs. As MONSOON shows, however, it is heat that prompts the hatchlings to clamber from their nurseries and call for their mothers, who wait nearby to protect the newborns.

However, like many other children of the monsoon, most of the young reptiles will not survive the coming dry season; only a few will live to see the cycle repeated. In the words of Shantipriya, "The wild monsoon winds blow with abandon, swaying everything in their path . . . rivers flow and flowers bloom in celebration of the monsoon, as the world is transformed under its spell."

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