Frequent cloudbursts have state on edge

Jammu: With global warming making cloudbursts in Jammu and Kashmir frequent now, the overstretched disaster management system in the state is under tremendous pressure to deal with the devastating aftermath. There have been eight incidents of the extreme weather phenomenon in the month of July so far.

Frequent cloudbursts have state on edge

Residents salvage belongings at their house damaged due to cloudburst in Srinagar. PTI file photo

Sumit Hakhoo

Tribune News Service

Jammu, July 26

With global warming making cloudbursts in Jammu and Kashmir frequent now, the overstretched disaster management system in the state is under tremendous pressure to deal with the devastating aftermath. There have been eight incidents of the extreme weather phenomenon in the month of July so far. It has wreaked havoc in different parts of the state with scores missing and eight persons losing their life.

Government agencies are nervous as there are recurrent cloudbursts in and around Baltal, the base camp for the Amarnath shrine, where thousands of people daily converge to proceed towards the holy cave shrine in the Himalayan mountain ranges.  Sonamarg and Baltal in Ganderbal district in Kashmir have seen the maximum number of casualties  and infrastructure worth crores has been destroyed.

Weather scientists say the hilly terrain of the state favours formation of cumulonimbus clouds and  the deadly interaction of two different wind patterns leads to shedding of larger droplets of water at a higher rate in a relatively short period, causing landslides and flash floods. At times, there is 100 mm rain in one hour in a small area, creating a torrent, smashing everything in its path and leaving a trail of destruction.

“In the absence of any foolproof mechanism to detect this adverse weather phenomenon in advance, the authorities are clueless when another one will occur. We are worried as Baltal had two back-to-back devastating cloudbursts in the last 48 hours. It is a scary scenario when thousands of people converge on one place,” said a senior government official.

As per a study, the high impact areas in Jammu and Kashmir prone to cloudburst are Budgam, Leh, Udhampur, Ramban, Doda, Reasi, Bandipora, Kulgam, Rajouri and Srinagar districts. The topography of the state plays a role in making cloudbursts highly localised. Conditions across the Himalayas, including Jammu and Kashmir, are changing and witnessing extreme weather events due to climate change.

“The effects of global and local climate change in the Himalayas are among the major reasons. Every occurrence of heavy rain is not a cloudburst. At times, heavy rain lashed by thunderstorms triggers a flash flood.  There is no accurate way to predict such incidents, which are always devastating,” said Sonum Lotus, Director, Indian Meteorological Department, Srinagar.

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 and resulting in extremely heavy rain.

“The government needs to radically change its disaster management planning. There is a need for expert training and equipment.  Till now, our stress has been on confronting floods, but cloudbursts are a new challenge,” said Alok Nandan, disaster management expert.

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