Flash floods and cloudbursts are the new entries in Kashmir’s troubled lingo. With 19 occurrences in last 20 days, Kashmir is witnessing a massive climatic change. Saima Bhat reports its costs on environment and livelihood
Till last week Kullan village on Srinagar-Sonmarg road was just another nondescript sleepy village with life and pace of its own. Small mud and brick houses dotted village green hillocks. There used to be a sense of pride among the villagers. And why not? Kullan has been living in the lap of nature for centuries. Away from the maddening crowd that would pass through the village to reach Sonmarg where depleting glaciers wait for them.
But on July 16, 2015, the centuries old camaraderie between the Mother Nature and the inhabitants of Kullan was broken forever. At 7 PM Ghulam Nabi Raina, 40, resident of Kangan in Ganderbal got a call from home that Kullan village is hit by flash floods triggered by a cloudburst. “It was not normal rainfall, some small white-stones, not hail, were falling with the rain,” says Raina. Within no time Raina saw entire hill coming down towards the village. “It was something I had never witnessed in my life,” recalls Raina.
So much of water entered the Kullan village that within 30 minutes 5 people lost their lives and around 130 houses got damaged. Among the dead was one carpenter from Bihar whose body was found 11 kms away in Raizan after 24 hours. The wound is afresh and locals fear if it rains again, the remaining part of the mountain may flush towards the village again. “In September 1992, Kullan village witnessed the same amount of rainfall but it didn’t create such havoc then,” recalls Raina.
But Haji Ghulam Mohammad, 70, says that in 1947 Kullan village was buried by a massive land slide. But even then there was not cloudburst or flash floods. “We couldn’t retrieve even a single thing then,” claims Mohammad.
But July 2015 has proved to be a month of thunderstorms and cloudbursts.
Since last year, the precipitation in the monsoon season (June, July, August and September) was reported to be highest in Kashmir as the summer monsoon was delayed and then it started at the same time when western disturbances (WD) were active.
Kashmir gets its 80 per cent of precipitation from WD and only a fewer percentage of precipitation is triggered by the summer monsoon arising from the Bay of Bengal in August.
In 2014 Srinagar had received 65 cms of rainfall till August and this year, the same amount of rainfall was recorded till July 20th only, says Professor Mohammad Shafi, Geography department, Kashmir University.
“We have received 90 percent of precipitation already and there are still five months left. We are heading towards 80 to 90 cms of rainfall for this year,” says Prof Shafi. He is forty-year-old and claims to have never witnessed such kind of a climate change.
Going through the records of last fifty years, Kashmir’s weather patterns were like – if winters were very wet then springs would receive mild rainfall and vice versa. And WD’s used to be minimal in July. But this year, summer monsoon was delayed and it arrived with WD’s, resulting in more amount of moisture in the air and thus precipitation.
Kashmir doesn’t have one mechanism only, besides WD’s and summer monsoons, the entire valley becomes virtual lake when water remains stagnant in paddy fields. That water evaporates and results in conventional rainfall, which is local precipitation, says Prof. Shafi.
He claims the frequent and more rainfall incidents are happening because of a number of reasons like a global warning, the hydrological system has been disturbed with the population explosion from last 20 years, which has resulted in the shrinkage of wet lands, chocked drains and then there is deforestation.
Besides, that forests hold soil tight and when it used to rain heavily, they act as barriers for that water. But due to deforestation, the chances of soil erosions have increased and the rain water directly reaches streams in a very short span of time, leading to flash floods with greater havoc.
In July 2015 only there were 19 incidents of cloudbursts, says the professors of geography. Even if they were not cloudburst and were extreme thunderstorm but for a layman the repercussions of both are same.
But the director of Indian Metrological station in Srinagar, Sonum Lotus refutes all claims that all of them were cloud bursts. He says technically they were not, but the incident that happened in Kullan was triggered by a cloudburst.
For this year, Lotus says the monsoon was very active compared to last year and that is the reason Kashmir is witnessing frequent rainfall.
Whenever summer monsoon remains active along with the northern parts of India, it brings a lot of moisture from the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. And when this moisture, under favourable conditions like sunshine, reaches mountainous regions like the Himalayas, J&K state, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, clouds get lifted and condensed which gives rise to air turbulence and Valley receive thunders. If it has moisture, then it creates more rainfall and if not, then it results in dry thunderstorms only, as it happens in Leh like places.
It might be a new phenomenon for locals but for Lotus, it is not. He says that thunderstorms are normal during the months of May, June and July. “On an Average at least eight thunderstorms in Srinagar in the month of July are normal. And thunderstorms always keeps wind along.”
The normal trend in the state is Jammu region receive the majority of rainfall during summer monsoon but Kashmir used to receive 70 per cent of precipitation during the non-monsoon season, from January till May. But since 2014, the pattern of rainfall in Kashmir has changed and it is more in south Kashmir than the other parts of Kashmir and it is recorded more during monsoon season.
Going through the climatology of Kashmir region, the WD’s have their impact more in North Kashmir and that impact decreases when it travels through the other parts of Kashmir and then it increases again when it hits Pir Panchal range thus resulting in the more amount of snow in North and South Kashmir but when summer monsoon winds are active, they result in more amount of rainfall in south than north as they come from Pir Panchal Range.
With the changing patterns of rainfall during summers, the temperature keeps fluctuating affecting the horticulture sector in such a way that Kashmir is at the verge of losing another crop.
All the apple and pear trees in Shopian district are suffering from alternari, which is a copper-colour dot on leaves, which results in premature leaf fall, says Abdul Shakoor, a fruit grower from Shopian. Premature leaf fall is said to be there because of fungal infections which attack trees when there is a lot of moisture in the air. And this leaf fall ultimately stops the development of crop and even they can fell from tress.
So far, Shakoor has used anti-fungal sprays 15 times when on an average only seven sprays are used on the trees. He is worried if rains don’t stop, he may lose his crop.
But the officials of this department says rains didn’t affect much but it was hailstorms and diseases that have created problems at certain places.“Besides that the fluctuating temperature has resulted in the problems in fruit, which may increase the loss to the department,” says Akhtar Hussain, deputy director Horticulture department Kashmir.
Around five to ten per cent loss has been reported from the harvest of stone foods, which include cherry, apricots, plums and prunes.
Due to rainfall, more than fifty per cent damages have been reported in the orchards of Bandipora, Hajin and Sumbal areas as these orchards were flooded in September 2014. The orchards in south Kashmir have suffered damage of ten to fifteen per cent due to hailstorms and flash floods. Government has planned to open a Pesticides Regulatory Authority, but it was not even passed yet.
As per the data of Metrological department of the last nine years, the highest temperature was recorded at 35.5-degree Celsius in the month of July in 2005, followed by 35.4-degree Celsius in 2013.
Meanwhile, July 2015 recorded the lowest average temperature breaking the record of the last 10 years. The average minimum temperature recorded in the month of July 2015 was 15.8-degree Celsius, with 38.8 mm of rainfall. Since 1971 till 2000, the average mean minimum temperature recorded in the month of July was 18.2-degree Celsius.
The change in weather has not only been reported from Kashmir but North Eastern, North Western and Uttarakhand areas too are witnessing changed weather conditions. “Summer precipitation is controlled by monsoons and this year the incidents of cloudbursts, thunderstorms and floods are expected to increase as there is a disturbance in monsoon and it is visible throughout,” says Professor Mohammad Sultan in the geography department of the University of Kashmir.
All mountainous areas are vulnerable to such climatic conditions due to the change in winds and currents in seas and oceans.
Not only areas of Pahalgam, but Sonmarg will also have such weather conditions, whole Valley’s geomorphology is such that such occurrences of cloudbursts and thunderstorms can happen anywhere.
Prof Sultan sees the climatic change in the valley as an effect of global warming, which is related to extreme weather events like it increases the frequency of cyclones, thunderstorms and precipitation.
For the time being, he feels only if state introduces a land use policy that can only mitigation of these disasters.