Weather Abnormalities are the New Normal

  • Danish Zargar
  • Publish Date: Feb 7 2017 8:54PM
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  • Updated Date: Feb 7 2017 8:54PM
Weather Abnormalities are the New Normal

                                                             Photo: Kashmir Ink

To the living witnesses of the climate change, the weather has changed enough for the ‘hip-breaking’ frost and dried delicacies to have become a memory

 

So far this winter, the weather has been a rollercoaster. A dry December initially returned the memories of arid previous winters, and then, unexpectedly, it snowed enough in January to break the records of the last 25 years; the people got reminded of what the winters used to be like in Kashmir.

It sounds abnormal, only because it is! Or, more precisely, abnormality displayed by the weather is the new normal, given that the climate in the Himalayan-bowl, whose charm is otherwise defined by four well-pronounced seasons, has changed to a perceivable extent, already. And the regression—towards a sorry stage where people will literally have to head to hill-stations to catch a glimpse of snow—continues.

The scientists notice two prominent changes in the region’s climate: winters are, and will be, warmer and characterised by more rains than snow; springs will be earlier and shorter, and sans the ‘juicy’ sub-period called tsount.  

“It is already happening and will happen regularly,” Prof Shakeel Romshoo, known for his study of the glaciers and climate in the Himalayan region, says.

“The temperature in winters will now be more than we used to see. The springs may happen earlier in terms of the characteristic bloom, etcetera, and there will be no tsount—the brief sub-period in spring where it used to rain more heavily.”

The changes in the summers and autumns will be definite but less perceptible, for, as per Romshoo, it is winter that influences the existence of the region’s glaciers, which, in turn, dictate its most things, including economy.

The culprit is global warming. Over the years, the temperature has increased by 0.8 degrees Celsius globally and by 1.6 degrees Celsius in the Himalayan region, Romshoo says.

“Overall precipitation is, therefore, largely unchanged. But the form of precipitation has changed: now, we have more rains than snow. Previously, you would rarely see rains in January, but it is very common occurrence nowadays” the scientist, who heads Kashmir University’s Department of Earth Sciences, says. 

The Metrological Department, which only talks in terms of the data, agrees. And looking at his data, Director Meteorology, Sonum Lotus, doesn’t have a reason to believe that any major climate shifts have occurred in the region.

As he says: “We are not the experts to talk of climate shifts; we only say what the data allows us to infer. The only thing that we see has changed is the overall temperature because of which we are witnessing early springs.”

The MeT Department’s recent data doesn’t explain anything in particular; it only suggests an intermediation of dry and wet spells—a phenomenon that is common in most weather systems.

In December, there are entries of record snowfall and rains of 209mm in December 1985, followed by 185 mm in 1986, 244 mm in 1990, and 154 mm in 1994.

Decembers in the years 1993, 1998, 1999, 2005, 2014, and 2016 have been, however, dry.

Overall, there have been moderate to good snowfall or rains in Decembers in only four years over the last 17 years: 43mm of rain or snow in 2010, 59mm in 2008, 72.2mm in 2006, and 59.4mm in 2003.

In the month of January, the amount of precipitation has changed from 8.1 mm in 2007 to 21.4mm in 2016.

The precipitation in January 2015 was 5.6 mm, 86.9 mm in 2014, 58.7 mm in 2013, 60.2 mm in 2012, 54.2 mm in 2011, 24.1 mm in 2010, 86.5 mm in 2009, and 76.3 mm in 2008.

The total annual precipitation also shows similar repeating patterns, with the total annual precipitation not having undergone any drastic changes. 

The Srinagar district, as per the data, received 671.6 mm of rain or snow in 1980, 743 mm in 1981, 811.5 mm in 1988, 942.8 mm in 1990, 937.7 mm in 1996, 892.9 mm in 2014, and 1,095mm in 2015.

The south Kashmir’s Kulgam district received 996 mm of rain and snow in 1980, 1119.9 mm in 1990, 1346.5 mm in 1996, and 1473 mm in 2015.

The north Kashmir’s Kupwara district received precipitation of 1261 mm in 1980, 1439.3 mm in 1996, and 1,539 mm in 2015.

Pahalgam, also in south Kashmir, recorded 1231.2 mm precipitation in 1980, 1634.2 mm in 1996, and 1539 mm in 2015.

“It is not the amount of precipitation that is changing; it is the form that has changed. Otherwise things are pretty much the same. We still have March as our wettest month,” Lotus explains.

The culprit, he agrees, is global warming, but his department hasn’t conducted any studies to learn how much has been the change in the region or what has been the rate of conversion of snow into rains. 

Is Kashmir, therefore, heading to a situation where there can be no snow? Yes, says Romshoo.

“In 30 to 70 years from now, there will be no snow in Kashmir; people in the plains may soon have to head to higher reaches to catch a glimpse of the snow,” he says.

The climate change, which has occurred and has been observed over dozens of decades, has begun to impact the region’s ecology.

In 52 years from 1962 to 2014, a retreat of 1014 m (19.5 metre per year) has been observed in Kolahoi glacier, which constitutes one of the biggest sources of irrigation, recreation, and hydropower generation in Kashmir Valley.

The study, conducted by a team of researchers led by Aparna Shukla of Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, has been published in a journal titled Environmental Monitoring and Assessment.

In another study on the changes in the glaciers in Kashmir’s alpine Himalayas, Khalid Omar Murtaza and Romshoo have suggested from their data analysis that the glaciers have shrunk by 17%.

The effect of the climate change is only going to increase and become diverse, affecting all aspects of the region’s geography.

A team of eight researchers, headed by Irfan Rashid from Kashmir University’s Department of Earth Sciences, studied the effect of climate on the vegetation in Kashmir Himalayas.

They conclude:  “The climate change is going to bring about significant changes in the vegetation distribution and type in the region, and might, therefore, adversely affect the services and products available from the forests…”

They suggest that many of the endemic and medicinally-important species, which are sensitive to any subtle variation in climate, may get extinct and, consequently, alter the fragile ecology of the region.

To the living witnesses of the climate change, the weather has changed enough for the ‘hip-breaking’ frost and dried delicacies to have become a memory.  

“In my boyhood some 60 years ago, it used to snow in November. The snow would turn into frost and last on the ground till spring; long icicles hanging down the rooftops were a common sight,” known social activist and satirist Zarief Ahmad Zarief recollects.

 “The municipality had to engage sweepers to clear the roads. They used shovels to cut the frost, which used to come off like copper sheets. People often broke their hip bones while walking over, and we had to eat dried vegetables for several months.”

The record snow Kashmir received this year is already gone; there are no icicles and no frost. It only killed about two dozen people, mostly soldiers, through avalanches, which too are being blamed on global warming.