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How much snow does Kashmir receive every winter on an average?
The Meteorology Department considers 26 cm of snowfall in the winter as average for Kashmir. However, over the past three decades, the amount of snow has been declining, attributed mostly to global warming.
How much snow has the Valley received this time?
This time, Kashmir has received more than162.2 mm or 16.2 cm of snowfall in January alone. The overall figure stands at 23 cm. January is the coldest month in Kashmir with temperatures remaining below sub-zero levels and cold winds blowing. The recent phase of heavy snowfall has coincided with the period of chillai kalan, the harshest 40-day period of winter in Kashmir, which begins on December 21 and lasts up to January 30. Night temperatures in this period drop up to -10 degrees Celsius in the plains, and to -20 degrees in the upper reaches.
How is this year different from other cold spells in the past?
It is after 26 years that the Valley has seen three spells of heavy snowfall in January. Though Kashmir had seen good snowfall in 2006 too, that time it had snowed in February and the snow didn’t last long, especially in the upper reaches, because of higher temperatures in that month. The sub-zero temperatures in January mean the snow has solidified this time, increasing its shelf life.
In meteorological terms, what qualifies as ‘heavy snowfall’?
More than 7 cm of snow in 24 hours is considered heavy snowfall.
What is the reason for this much snowfall in January?
The Met Department attributes it to Western Disturbance, an ‘extratropical’, non-monsoon precipitation pattern driven by westerly winds, which arises in the Mediterranean Sea, Caspian Sea and Black Sea and brings winter rain or snow to northwestern parts of the India, as well as to Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh.
The Western Disturbance has led to heavy snow this time in not just Kashmir but also Himachal Pradesh. Extratropical storms usually carry moisture in the upper atmosphere, unlike their tropical counterparts where the moisture is carried in the lower atmosphere.
Western Disturbance is important for rabi crop as it sustains the Himalayan snow cover, which ensures water for irrigation during the summer months when the glaciers melt.
Now that chillai kalan is over, does it mean there is no possibility of any more snow in the Valley?
The Met Department has predicted more snowfall in February. Previous years show it can snow in the Valley between November and March, but as explained earlier, it is the snowfall in December and January that lasts longer. March marks the arrival of spring in Kashmir.
What is the significance of chillai kalan in the Valley?
The 40-day period is considered a blessing. Apart from drawing tourists, including now foreigners to Gulmarg’s ski slopes, the snow helps recharge the state’s water-table and is good for its horticulture industry.
The more affluent homes in the Valley have a room with hallowed stone floor, called the hamam, for precisely this period. Wooden logs kept in the hollow space are set afire on cold days to warm up the floor.