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UPSC EDITORIAL ANALYSIS : Why is there no snowfall in Kashmir?     

 

Source: The Hindu

 

  • Prelims: Current events of international importance, Climate change, el-nino, western disturbances, jet stream, COP, IPCC, G20 etc
  • Mains GS Paper II: Biodiversity and Environment: Conservation, Environmental Pollution and Degradation etc

 

ARTICLE HIGHLIGHTS

  • This winter Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh regions are extremely dry.
    • Places like Gulmarg and Pahalgam, have been unable to offer avenues for the winter sport.
  • Records from the India Meteorological Department (IMD) suggest that Himachal Pradesh has registered its driest January since 1901, with a 99.7% shortfall in January rain compared to what is normal.

                         

INSIGHTS ON THE ISSUE

Context

Major reasons behind the lack of snowfall:

  • A drastic fall in Western Disturbances (WDs) over northwest India
  • Prevailing El-Nino conditions
  • Absence of a strong jet stream.

How do these factors influence snowfall?

Western Disturbances

  • They are storms that originate in the mid-latitude regions and travel thousands of kilometers to bring rains to northern India.
  • WDs in the winter dissipate fog and increase the sunshine incident on the ground raising temperatures.
  • When the temperatures are low, result in snowfall and water being available as snow melts.
  • The melting glaciers contribute to the water available in the Ganga, Indus and Yamuna.
  • Usually, 5-7 WDs impact northwest India during December to January.
  • There were two WDs in this period, but their impact was mainly confined to Gujarat, north Maharashtra, east Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
    • The lack of these rains, the Western Himalayan Region got 80% less rain than normal.

El-Nino:

  • They occur over the equatorial Pacific Ocean, or warmer ocean temperatures,
  • El Nino, or the converse, La Nina, the number of WDs in December and January have been on a decline.
  • The northwest region, which usually reports nearly a third of its rainfall during this season, saw an 83% rainfall deficit.
  • Climate change is considered a contributing factor to the declining snowfall in Kashmir, as indicated by various studies.
  • The rate of temperature increase is higher in upper elevation areas than in the plains, further impacting snowfall.
  • The current El Nino event in the eastern Pacific Ocean is suggested as an additional factor affecting global atmospheric circulation and contributing to the deficit precipitation in the region.
  • There have been several years in the last one decade — 2022, 2018, 2015 — when winters have been relatively dry in Jammu and Kashmir, and snowfall has been very low.

Jet streams:

  • JS are powerful winds, ranging from 250-320 kmph, traveling at about 12 km above mean sea level.
  • They are carriers of the western disturbances but the lack of moisture have been contributing to the subsidence of cold air thereby enhancing the cold over north India.
  • The jet streams set in after the withdrawal of the monsoon are also able to draw in moisture from the Arabian Sea.
  • The jet stream has been shifting northwards.
    • It is a consequence of a warming in the Arctic seas that affects the natural gradient of temperature necessary to ensure the strength and direction of the jet streams.

 

What are the Implications of No Snowfall in Kashmir?

●      Short and Long Term Impact:

○      Short-term effects include an increase in forest fires, agricultural drought, and a drop in crop production.

  • Long-term consequences include a reduction in hydroelectricity generation, an increase in glacier melting, and adverse effects on drinking water supply due to less recharge of groundwater.
  • Vital for Winter Crops:
    • The winter snow, crucial for moisture in the soil,is vital for winter crops, particularly horticulture.
    • The yields of apples and Saffron, significant contributors to the local economy, are adversely affected in the absence of sufficient snowfall.
  • Impact on Tourism:
    • Gulmarg, a key winter tourism spot in Kashmir, is witnessing a sharp decline in tourist visits this season due to insufficient snow.
    • Despite substantial tourist numbers in 2023, officials project at least a 60% reduction in footfall.
    • The scarcity of snow is adversely affecting ski resorts and related businesses, impacting the local economy.

Way Forward

  • It is important to aspire to a 1.5°C target, the correspondingly lower carbon budget heightens questions of equity and who bears the responsibility for achieving these ambitious targets.
  • As countries cannot entirely develop their way out of climate risk and vulnerability, mitigation remains essential.
  • The IPCC AR6 synthesis report is a landmark report because it offers a blueprint for sustainable development, while presenting a sobering account of present and future damages to ecosystems and the most vulnerable amongst us.

 

QUESTION FOR PRACTICE

Most of the unusual climatic happenings are explained as an outcome of the El-Nino effect. Do you agree? (UPSC 2014) (200 WORDS, 10 MARKS)