Why Kashmir and Ladakh are without snow this winter, its implications

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What’s in today’s article?

  • Why in news?
  • The Normal Climatic Conditions
  • What is El Nino and La Nina?
  • News Summary: Why Kashmir and Ladakh are without snow this winter, its implications
  • Dry Winter in Jammu & Kashmir
  • What are the reasons behind the dry winter in J&K?
  • Impact of dry winter

Why in news?

  • One of Kashmir’s main winter tourism attractions, Gulmarg, has been bereft of snow this season.
  • This has led to a plunge in the flow of tourists and severely hitting the business of ski resorts.

The Normal Climatic Conditions

  • Weather depends a lot on ocean temperatures and where the ocean is warm, more clouds form and more rainfall in that part of the world.
  • In the Pacific Ocean, near the equator, the Sun makes the water especially warm on the surface.
  • Normally, a surface low pressure system forms in northern Australia and Indonesia and a high-pressure system develops off the coast of Peru.
  • As a result, the trade winds blow strongly from east to west over the Pacific Ocean, transporting warm surface waters westward.
  • This leads to convective storms (thunderstorms) to Indonesia and coastal Australia.

What is El Nino and La Nina?

  • El Nino and La Nina are two opposing climate trends that deviate from the normal conditions and normally run nine to twelve months, but can often extend.
  • These events occur every two to seven years on average (El Nino is more frequent than La Nina), but not on a regular basis and together are referred to as the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle by scientists.
  • El Nino is typically known as the warm phase (a band of warmer water spreading from west to east in the equatorial Pacific Ocean) and La Nina is identified as the cold phase (a band of cooler water spreads east-west) of ENSO.
  • Both El Nino and La Nina can have global effects on weather, wildfires, ecosystems and economics.

News Summary: Why Kashmir and Ladakh are without snow this winter, its implications

Dry Winter in Jammu & Kashmir

  • Existing pattern
    • Winter precipitation in Jammu and Kashmir, as also Ladakh, is mainly in the form of snowfall.
    • Normally, the region gets its first snowfall in the first half of December, and then through most of January.
  • Rainfall this winter
    • The whole of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh have remained largely without rains or snow this winter.
    • Jammu and Kashmir saw 80% rainfall deficit in December and 100% (absolutely no rain) deficit in January so far.
    • Ladakh has had no precipitation at all in December or January.
    • While snowfall in the region has been showing a declining trend in recent years, this season is remarkable.

Reasons behind the dry winter in J&K

  • The overall decreasing trend of snowfall has been attributed to a decline in western disturbance events and gradual rise in temperatures, which involves the role of climate change.
  • The prevailing El Nino event in the eastern Pacific Ocean might be the additional factor to account for this year.
  • Western Disturbances
    • Winter precipitation in the Himalayan region is caused mainly by Western Disturbances.
      • These are large eastward-moving rain-bearing wind systems that originate beyond Afghanistan and Iran.
      • They pick up moisture from as far as the Mediterranean Sea and even the Atlantic Ocean.
    • Western Disturbances are the primary source of rainfall over north and northwest India during the post-monsoon and winter months.
    • During winters, about four to six western disturbance events happen every month on an average.
    • This season there was one feeble western disturbance event in December that did not bring any rains, and another similar one in January.
      • Western disturbances have been showing a declining trend in recent times.
      • Because of this, the overall precipitation during the winter months in the northern regions has also been declining.
  • Rising temperatures
    • Also, temperatures in these regions are rising. The rate of increase of temperature is seen to be higher in the upper elevation areas than in the plains.
      • On many days, Srinagar temperatures are comparable to those of Delhi, sometimes they appear to be even higher.
    • This is also contributing to the decline in snowfall.
  • El Nino impact
    • For the past few months, El Niño has persisted and will continue to do so in the coming months.
    • This has affected the global atmospheric circulation, and might be contributing to the deficit precipitation in the region as well.

Impact of dry winter

  • Long-term implications
    • the generation of less hydroelectricity,
    • an increase in the rate of glacier melting, and
    • an adverse impact on the drinking water supply, since scanty snowfall means very little recharge of groundwater.
  • Short-term implications
    • A dry spell can result in an increase in forest fires, agricultural drought, and a drop in crop production.
    • It can lead to an early spring, which means early flowering, which can cause a reduction in yield.
    • The winter snow is a source of steady moisture to the soil that is vital for winter crops, particularly horticulture.
    • Yields of apples or saffron, important ingredients of local 

Q1) What are western disturbances?

According to the India Meteorological Department (IMD), Western Disturbances are storms that originate in the Caspian or Mediterranean Sea, and bring non-monsoonal rainfall to northwest India. 

Q2) What is Gulmarg? 

Gulmarg is a town and hill station in the Baramulla district of Jammu and Kashmir, India. It's located in a valley in the Pir Panjal Range of the Himalayas, at an elevation of 2,650 meters (8,694 ft).

Source: Why Kashmir and Ladakh are without snow this winter, its implications | National Ocean Service | The Hindu