Climate Change In Himalayas Making Cloudbursts Highly Localised In J&K

19 July 2015
The Tribune (Chandigarh)
Sumit Hakhoo

Jammu: Two cloudbursts in Ganderbal and Shehnag last week have once again brought into focus the extreme weather phenomenon, which is becoming frequent in the fragile Himalayan state of Jammu and Kashmir. A deadly mix of heavy rain and landslides every year is leaving a trail of destruction with weather scientists attributing it to global climate change affecting the entire Himalayan region, making cloudbursts localised. As the monsoon is strengthening its grip over Jammu and Kashmir, scientists are cautiously keeping a watch on 'dance of clouds' over the state. For the last two years, there has been greater frequency of deadly interaction of moist warm monsoon winds and cool dry western winds called western disturbance creating a low pressure area over the state, resulting in extremely heavy rain. During the last one week, heavy rain in Anantnag, Ramban, Rajouri and Baramulla districts washed away several houses and blocked strategic highways, creating fright and alarm among government agencies which now had to frequently deal with such situations sapping their resources. A cloudburst is an extreme amount of precipitation, sometimes accompanied by hail and thunder that normally lasts no longer than a few minutes, but discharges a large amount of water in a small area. Nearly 260 people had died in the 2010 Leh floods while 281 people had died in September 2014 in Jammu and Kashmir. Infrastructure worth billions had been destroyed in recent years. 'Cloudbursts are becoming highly localised. Conditions across the Himalayas, including in J&K, are changing and witnessing extreme weather events. After the Leh cloudburst, the state has witnessed several such incidents. Heavy rain, a rare phenomenon in Kashmir and Ladakh, is now a reality,' said Dr Shakil Ahmad Romshoo, head of department of earth sciences, University of Kashmir. There is also concern over expansion of landslide-vulnerable areas, forcing the government to conduct a study to find out reasons for such extreme weather conditions. Deforestation has emerged as a major reason for landslides as mountains have lost their retaining power. Indian Meteorological Department's Srinagar Director Sonum Lotus said the meeting of two wind patterns was a natural phenomenon and many atmospheric factors were responsible for it, but was always a dangerous scenario. 'It is all about timing. During the last two years, the wind patterns met at a perfect time, creating a situation for the phenomenon called cloudburst. It cannot be predicted,' said Lotus. The worrying factor is that the Himalayan ranges passing through the state fall in the world's most active seismic zone and can potentially have a devastating effect in case of massive earthquake hitting the state, which is a possibility in the near future. Arterial roads and highways are often blocked by landslides, which halts rescue efforts.