Are recent cloudbursts in Kashmir valley indicator of extreme weather variations?

A cloudburst, which often causes flood-like situation where it strikes, occurs when a cloud goes through sudden process of condensation.

Are recent cloudbursts in Kashmir valley indicator of extreme weather variationsThree separate incidents of cloudbursts this month in the valley of Kashmir have yet again pushed experts to question whether the administration is unprepared to handle such incidents.

Three people got killed in Baltal, five in Pahalgam and one woman died in Ganderbal area as all these people were caught unaware when cloudburst hit their respective areas in the month of July.

‘There is no mechanism to predict cloudbursts’

Many locals and visitors hold the belief that the cloudburst phenomenon relates to culmination of ‘sins’. Negating the belief, Director MeT Department, Kashmir, Sonam Lotus, points out that the phenomena of cloudbursts is not uncommon to Kashmir. “There have been cloudbursts in Kashmir every year. Earlier, these incidents were not as widely reported, probably. With the growing popularity of social media networks, people get to hear about it more often now,” Lotus says.

The senior official in weather office further points out that there were not as many as cloudbursts as reported, but, a majority of them were mere thunderstorms. “If a cloud precipitates more than 100 mm of rain in an hour, it is termed as a cloudburst,” Lotus emphasises adding that there is no mechanism to forecast the phenomenon except an hour prior to its impact.

A cloudburst, which often causes flood-like situation where it strikes, occurs when a cloud goes through sudden process of condensation.

‘Kashmir is prone to cloudbursts’

The geomorphic layout of Kashmir valley is such that it is prone to these events, stresses Professor and Head, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Kashmir, Shakil Ahmad Romshoo. “This is not an unusual phenomenon here, but we have not experienced it with such a frequency and intensity in recent meteorological history,” Romshoo explains.

The expert, however, underlines that there is no data to show that the frequency of the extreme events (including cloudbursts) has increased in Kashmir Himalayas. He reiterates the observation shared by Lotus that such incidents might have gone ‘underreported’ earlier. “The indicators of climate change are quite loud and clear in Kashmir Himalayas but I don’t see any local reason responsible for the increased frequency of extreme weather events in Kashmir,” says Romshoo.

September 2014 floods ravaged valley following series of cloudbursts

One of the worst natural disasters in the past century that ravaged the valley in September last year also occurred following a series of cloudbursts in the region in September 2014. As many as 129 people died and millions were affected after water from River Jhelum pierced through the fields and ramparts of the regions towns and cities.

The cloudbursts are not confined to Kashmir Valley. At least 20 houses were damaged in a reported cloudburst that struck Wakha village in Kargil Tuesday night. In the year 2010, more than 1,000 people were left dead and over 400 injured after a series of cloudbursts struck Leh in state’s Ladakh region. The Indian Subcontinent witnesses cloudbursts usually when a monsoon cloud drifts closer to the Himalayan range and brings heavy precipitation during impact.

What relates climate changes to human influences ….

Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an intergovernmental body, has observed changes in many extreme weather and climate events since 1950s. It links the changes to human influences, “including a decrease in cold temperature extremes, an increase in warm temperature extremes, an increase in extreme high sea levels and an increase in the number of heavy precipitation events in a number of regions.”

Interestingly, no expert that iamin spoke to, denied that Kashmir has been marred by unplanned urbanisation, pollution, uncontrolled deforestation and unsustainable models of development.

As per the findings of Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), a huge chunk of forest area in North Kashmir witnessed a colossal deforestation. “A major chunk of forests was cut down and timber worth crores of rupees was smuggled by Ikhwan – State sponsored militia to non registered contractors,” noted Human Rights Lawyer Parvez Imroz says.

Earlier this year, the High Court issued an order to chop down hundreds and thousands of Russian Poplar trees, introduced in the valley about 30 years ago, across the state due to the polluting effects caused by its pollen.

Forests, glaciers, lakes and other water bodies have suffered equally due to unprecedented annihilation in Kashmir due to human intervention and unplanned developmental projects. Besides, a two decade long conflict also caused major problems to the fragile ecosystem of the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Imroz adds that the whole valley including areas closer to Srinagar city witnessed a massive deforestation owing to ongoing conflict in the region in which Ikhwan played a major role. The annihilation of natural systems like this have without a doubt catapulted the abnormality in weather conditions in the region.

Romshoo, Arjuna Srinidhi, Programme Manager, Climate Change, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) says that it is difficult to attribute changes in a single season to climate change.  “But definitely, if there is a change in pattern that is repeating then it is likely to be because of climate change,” Srinidhi says.

Adding that Kashmir was flooded for the second time in a space of 6 months, something that has never happened before and March received nearly twice the normal amount of rainfall for the first time in 50 years, Srinidhi sums up, “These are definitely signs that the weather variations are beyond what is expected normally and therefore quite likely to be due to climate change.”