AskDefine | Define monsoon

Dictionary Definition



1 a seasonal wind in southern Asia; blows from the southwest (bringing rain) in summer and from the northeast in winter
2 rainy season in southern Asia when the southwestern monsoon blows, bringing heavy rains
3 any wind that changes direction with the seasons

User Contributed Dictionary



  • a UK /mɒnˈsuːn/, /mQn"su:n/
  • Rhymes with: -uːn


From etyl ar موسم < وسم, through etyl pt and etyl nl.


  1. Any of a number of winds associated with regions where most rain falls during a particular season.
  2. Tropical rainy season when the rain lasts for several months with few interruptions.
  3. The rains themselves.
  4. Entire meteorological systems with such characteristics.


  • Finnish: monsuuni, monsuunituuli
  • German: Monsunwind
tropical rainy season
meteorological system
  • Finnish: monsuuni-ilmasto
  • German: Monsun


Extensive Definition

A monsoon is a seasonal prevailing wind which lasts for several months. The term was first used in English in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and neighboring countries to refer to the big seasonal winds blowing from the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea in the southwest bringing heavy rainfall to the region. In hydrology, monsoon rainfall is considered to be that which occurs in any region that receives the majority of its rain during a particular season. This allows other regions of world such as within North America, South America. Sub-Saharan Africa, Australia and East Asia to qualify as monsoon regions. In terms of total precipitation and total area covered, the monsoons affecting the Indian subcontinent dwarf the North American monsoon. The South Asian monsoon affects larger number of people due to the high density of population in this part of the world.


Monsoons are caused by the larger amplitude of the seasonal cycle of land temperature compared to that of nearby oceans. This differential warming happens because heat in the ocean is mixed vertically through a "mixed layer" that may be fifty meters deep, through the action of wind and buoyancy-generated turbulence, whereas the land surface conducts heat slowly, with the seasonal signal penetrating perhaps a meter or so. Additionally, the specific heat of liquid water is significantly higher than that of most materials that make up land. Together, these factors mean that the heat capacity of the layer participating in the seasonal cycle is much larger over the oceans than over land, with the consequence that land warms faster and reaches a higher temperature than the ocean. The hot air over the land tends to rise, creating an area of low pressure. This creates a steady wind blowing toward the land, bringing the moist near-surface air over the oceans with it. Similar rainfall is caused by the moist ocean air being lifted upwards by mountains, surface heating, convergence at the surface, divergence aloft, or from storm-produced outflows at the surface. However the lifting occurs, the air cools due expansion in lower pressure, which in turn produces condensation.
In winter, the land cools off quickly, but the ocean keeps the heat longer. The hot air over the ocean rises, creating a low pressure area and a breeze from land to ocean while a large area of drying high pressure is formed over the land, increased by wintertime cooling. Monsoons are similar to sea and land breezes, a term usually referring to the localized, diurnal (daily) cycle of circulation near coastlines everywhere, but they are much larger in scale, stronger and seasonal.

Monsoon Systems

As monsoons have become better understood, the term monsoon has been broadened to include almost all of the phenomena associated with the annual weather cycle within the tropical and subtropical land regions of the earth.
Even more broadly, it is now understood that in the geological past, monsoon systems must have always accompanied the formation of supercontinents such as Pangaea, with their extreme continental climates.

Northeast Monsoon (Southern Asia and Australasia)

In Southern Asia, the northeastern monsoons take place from December to early March. The temperature over central Asia is less than 25°C as it is the northern hemisphere winter, therefore creating a zone of high pressure there. The jet stream in this region splits into the southern subtropical jet and the polar jet. The subtropical flow directs northeasterly winds to blow across southern Asia, creating dry air streams which produce clear skies over India. Meanwhile, a low pressure system develops over South-East Asia and Australasia and winds are directed toward Australia known as a monsoon trough.

Northern Indian Ocean Monsoon

South-West Summer Monsoon

The southwestern summer monsoons occur from June through September. The Great Indian Desert (Thar Desert) and adjoining areas of the northern and central Indian subcontinent heats up too much during the hot seasons of summer. This causes a low pressure area over the northern and central Indian subcontinent. To fill up this void, the moisture-laden winds from the Indian Ocean rush in to the subcontinent. These winds, rich in moisture, are drawn towards the Himalayas, creating winds blowing storm clouds towards the subcontinent. However the Himalayas act like a high wall and do not allow the winds to pass into Central Asia, forcing them to rise. With the gain in altitude of the clouds, the temperature drops and precipitation occurs. Some areas of the subcontinent receive up to 10,000 mm of rain.
The southwest monsoon is generally expected to begin around the start of June and dies down by September. The moisture-laden winds on reaching the southernmost point of the Indian peninsula, due to its topology, become divided into two parts:
  • Arabian Sea Branch of the SW Monsoon
  • Bay of Bengal Branch of the SW Monsoon
The Arabian Sea Branch of the SW Monsoon first hits the Western Ghats of the coastal state of Kerala, India and hence Kerala is the first state in India to receive rain from the South-West Monsoon. This branch of the monsoon moves northwards along the Western Ghats giving rain to the coastal areas west of the Western Ghats. It is to be noted that the eastern parts of the Western Ghats do not receive much rain from this monsoon as the wind does not cross the Western Ghats.
The Bay of Bengal Branch of SW Monsoon flows over the Bay of Bengal heading towards North-Eastern India and Bengal, picking up more moisture from the Bay of Bengal. Its hits the Eastern Himalaya and provides a huge amount of rain to the regions of North-East India, Bangladesh and West Bengal. Mawsynram, situated on the southern slopes of the Eastern Himalaya in Shillong, India is one of the wettest places on Earth. After striking the Eastern Himalaya it turns towards the West, travels over the Indo-Gangetic Plain, at a rate of roughly 1-2 weeks per state, pouring rain all along its way.
The monsoon accounts for 80 percent of the rainfall in the country. Indian agriculture (which accounts for 25 percent of the GDP and employs 70 percent of the population) is heavily dependent on the rains, especially crops like cotton, rice, oilseeds and coarse grains. A delay of a few days in the arrival of the monsoon can, and does, badly affect the economy, as evidenced in the numerous droughts in India in the 90s.
The monsoon is widely welcomed and appreciated by city-dwellers as well, for it provides relief from the climax of summer in June. However, because of the lack of adequate infrastructure in place, most major cities are often adversely affected as well. The roads, already shoddy, take a battering each year; houses and streets at the bottom of slopes and beside rivers are waterlogged, slums are flooded, and the sewers and the rare hurricane drain start to back up and pour out toxic filth rather than drain it away. This translates into various minor casualties most of the time; lack of city infrastructure coupled with changing climate patterns also causes severe damage to and loss of property and life. Bangladesh and some regions of India like in Assam and places of West Bengal experiences heavy flood, which claims huge number of lives and huge loss of property and causes severe damage to economy, as evidenced in the Mumbai floods of 2005. Also in the recent past, areas in India that used to receive scanty rainfall throughout the year, like the Thar Desert, have surprisingly ended up receiving floods due to the prolonged monsoon season.
June 1 is regarded as the date of onset of the monsoon in India, which is the average date on which the monsoon strikes Kerala over the years for which scientific data is available with the Indian Meteoreological Department.

North-East Monsoon (Retreating Monsoon)

Around September, with the sun fast retreating south, the northern land mass of the Indian subcontinent begins to cool off rapidly. With this air pressure begins to build over northern India. The Indian Ocean and its surrounding atmosphere still holds its heat. This causes the cold wind to sweep down from the Himalayas and Indo-Gangetic Plain towards the vast spans of the Indian Ocean south of the Deccan peninsular. This is known as the North-East Monsoon or Retreating Monsoon.
While traveling towards the Indian Ocean, the dry cold wind picks up some moisture from the Bay of Bengal and pours it over peninsular India. Cities like Chennai, which get less rain from the South-West Monsoon, receives rain from the Retreating Monsoon. About 50% - 60% of the rain received by the state of Tamil Nadu is from the North-East Monsoon.
It is worth noting that North-East Monsoon (or the Retreating Monsoon) is not able to bring as much rain as the South-West Monsoon.

North American Monsoon

The North American Monsoon (NAM) occurs from late June or early July into September, originating over Mexico and spreading into the southwest United States by mid-July. It affects Mexico along the Sierra Madre Occidental as well as Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, West Texas, and California. It pushes as far west as the Peninsular Ranges and Transverse Ranges of southern California but rarely reaches the coastal strip (a wall of desert thunderstorms only a half-hour's drive away is a common summer sight from the sunny skies along the coast during the monsoon). The North American monsoon is known to many as the Summer, Southwest, Mexican or Arizona monsoon. It is also sometimes called the Desert Monsoon as a large part of the affected area is desert.
The North American monsoon is associated with an area of high pressure called the subtropical ridge that moves northward during the summer months and a thermal low (a trough of low pressure which develops from intense surface heating) over the Mexican Plateau and the Desert Southwest of the United States. The monsoon begins in late May to early June in southern Mexico and quickly spreads along the western slopes of the Sierra Madre Occidental, reaching Arizona and New Mexico in early July. The monsoon extends into the southwest United States as it matures in mid July when an area of high pressure, called the monsoon or subtropical ridge, develops in the upper atmosphere over the Four Corners region, creating an easterly to southeasterly wind flow aloft. This wind flow pattern directs moisture originating in the Gulf of Mexico, Gulf of California and the tropical Pacific by way of northern Mexico into the region. When precipitable water values near , brief but often torrential thunderstorms can occur, especially over mountainous terrain. This activity is occasionally enhanced by the passage of retrograding (westward-moving) upper cyclones and the entrainment of the remnants of tropical storms.
As much as 70% of rainfall in the region occurs during the summer monsoon. Many desert plants are adapted to take advantage of this brief wet season. Because of the monsoons, the Sonoran and Mojave are considered relatively "wet" when ranked among other deserts such as the Sahara.
Monsoons play a vital role in managing wildfire threat by providing moisture at higher elevations and feeding desert streams. Heavy monsoon rain can lead to excess winter plant growth, in turn a summer wildfire risk. A lack of monsoon rain can hamper summer seeding, reducing excess winter plant growth but worsening drought.
Flash flooding is a serious danger during the monsoon season. Dry washes can become raging rivers in an instant, even when no storms are visible as a storm can cause a flash flood tens of miles away (never camp in a dry wash in the desert). Lightning strikes are also a significant danger. Because it is dangerous to be caught in the open when these storms suddenly appear, many golf courses in Arizona have thunderstorm warning systems.
The North American monsoon affects much of the United States and Mexico. Major drought episodes in the midwestern United States are associated with an amplification of the upper tropospheric monsoon ridge, along with a weakening of the western edge of the "Bermuda high" and the low-level jet stream over the great plains.

African Monsoon

The monsoon of western sub-Saharan Africa is the result of the seasonal shifts of the Intertropical Convergence Zone and the great seasonal temperature differences between the Sahara and the equatorial Atlantic Ocean. It migrates northward from the equatorial Atlantic in February, reaches western Africa on June 22, then moves back to the south by October. The dry, northeasterly trade winds, and their more extreme form, the harmattan, are interrupted by the northern shift in the ITCZ and resultant southerly, rain-bearing winds during the summer. The semiarid Sahel and Sudan depend upon this pattern for most of their precipitation.

South American Monsoon

Much of Brazil experiences seasonal wind patterns that bring a summer maximum to precipitation. Rio de Janeiro is infamous for flooding as a result of monsoon rains.


monsoon in Bosnian: Monsun
monsoon in Bulgarian: Мусон
monsoon in Czech: Monzun
monsoon in Danish: Monsun
monsoon in German: Monsun
monsoon in Estonian: Mussoon
monsoon in Spanish: Monzón
monsoon in Esperanto: Musono
monsoon in Basque: Montzoi
monsoon in French: Mousson
monsoon in Galician: Monzón
monsoon in Hindi: मॉनसून
monsoon in Croatian: Monsun
monsoon in Indonesian: Muson
monsoon in Italian: Monsone
monsoon in Hebrew: מונסון
monsoon in Lithuanian: Musonas
monsoon in Dutch: Moessonklimaat
monsoon in Japanese: モンスーン
monsoon in Norwegian: Monsun
monsoon in Polish: Monsun
monsoon in Portuguese: Monção
monsoon in Romanian: Muson
monsoon in Russian: Муссон
monsoon in Slovenian: Monsun
monsoon in Serbo-Croatian: Monsunska klima
monsoon in Finnish: Monsuuni
monsoon in Swedish: Monsun
monsoon in Tagalog: Balaklaot
monsoon in Tamil: பருவப் பெயர்ச்சிக் காற்று
monsoon in Thai: มรสุม
monsoon in Vietnamese: Gió mùa
monsoon in Ukrainian: Мусон
monsoon in Chinese: 季风

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

air current, cat-and-dog weather, crosscurrent, current, current of air, dirty weather, downdraft, draft, fall wind, flow of air, following wind, head wind, indraft, inflow, inhalation, inrush, inspiration, jetstream, katabatic wind, movement of air, predominance of Aquarius, raininess, rains, rainy day, rainy season, rainy weather, spell of rain, spring rains, stormy weather, stream, stream of air, tail wind, undercurrent, updraft, wet, wet season, wet weather, wind
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