Kashmir Valley, known for its scenic beauty and snow-covered mountains, is facing one of the most extended dry spells with an 80% loss in snow cover this season; it has been more than 50 days since the valley saw snowfall while the northern plains have been witnessing a severe cold wave accompanied by fog & smog.
Experts have identified the absence of Western disturbances and the impact of El Nino this season as the reasons behind this abnormality. Historically, such conditions lead to fewer “cold wave” days in northern India, when the minimum temperature recorded at weather stations drops by more than 4 degrees Celsius below normal.
What is El Nino?
El Nino is a Spanish term meaning ‘The Little Boy’ OR ‘Christ child.’ It refers to a climate pattern that describes the unusual warming of surface waters in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, which causes heavy rainfall on the Peruvian coast. At the same time, Asia is deprived of rain or witnesses scant rainfall. This effect has a negative influence on the Indian monsoons and, as a result, on agriculture in India, as many farmers rely on seasonal rainfall for irrigation.
What are Western Disturbances?
Western disturbances originate in the Mediterranean Ocean as extratropical storms. This phenomenon carries moisture in the upper layers of the atmosphere, which moves eastwards under the influence of Westerlies. This causes rainfall in North-western India during winters in December and January. In the case of the Indian subcontinent, moisture is sometimes shed as rain when the storm system encounters the Himalayas.
Northern Plains and Cold Wave
The presence of El Nino is associated with an absence of Western disturbances from India and milder winters. However, Northern India has been witnessing a severe cold wave in recent weeks, which was caused primarily by the effect of Jetstreams that blow from West to East in the upper atmosphere. These are bands of strong winds with speeds up to 250 Kmph that blow about 12 kilometres above the surface. These winds led to the subsidence of cold air, causing moisture to turn into water droplets and enhancing cold wave conditions.
What Do Experts Say?
According to experts, three conditions are required for fog formation: Weak low-level winds, moisture and overnight cooling. The presence of all three factors created favourable conditions for fog formation, and the presence of pollutants and dust particles allows the droplets to bind with them, stay suspended in air due to slow surface winds, and not disperse quickly, causing a drop in temperatures and poor visibility.
Two western disturbances have passed over the country this winter, but their impact has been confined to Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and north Maharashtra. As a result, there has been little to no snowfall this season in India’s Himalayan region, including in Jammu and Kashmir, which usually receives snowfall from November to March. As per experts, the primary reason behind Kashmir’s snowless winter is El Nino and disruption in Western disturbances.
Scientists attribute this disruption to global warming and changing climate patterns, which have altered global patterns and caused extreme events such as droughts and floods. This year’s winter has been snowless in many hilly regions, while the southern region has seen heavy rainfall, causing floods in Tamilnadu. There have been multiple warnings from the scientific community to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the use of fossil fuels, which are responsible for increased temperatures causing global warming and climate change.