January 16, 2024
• The Kashmir and Ladakh region is experiencing an unusual scarcity of snowfall this winter, impacting various facets of life. Beyond being a winter tourism attraction, the absence of snow has far-reaching consequences for the local climate, agriculture, horticulture, water resources, and the overall economy.
Factors Behind the Dwindling Snowfall
• Gulmarg, a prominent winter tourism destination, has witnessed a stark absence of snow, leading to a significant decline in tourist footfall and affecting the business of ski resorts. Government data indicates a substantial drop in tourists compared to the previous year. The entire Jammu and Kashmir, along with Ladakh, has experienced an exceptionally dry winter with a notable rainfall deficit.
• Winter precipitation in the region is predominantly influenced by Western Disturbances—eastward-moving rain-bearing wind systems originating from beyond Afghanistan and Iran. The declining trend of these disturbances, coupled with a gradual rise in temperatures, has been contributing to reduced snowfall in recent years. This season, there were notably fewer western disturbance events, exacerbating the situation.
El Nino Impact:
• The persisting El Nino event in the eastern Pacific Ocean is considered an additional factor affecting the winter precipitation. The disruption in global atmospheric circulation due to El Nino may be contributing to the deficit in precipitation in the region, compounding the challenges posed by other climatic factors.
Climate Change and Declining Snowfall
Climate Change Nexus:
• Experts, including atmospheric scientist A P Dimri, highlight the role of climate change in the diminishing snowfall. Studies indicate a decline in the frequency of strong Western Disturbances, coupled with rising temperatures in higher elevation areas. The increasing temperatures are believed to be a significant contributor to the reduction in snowfall, with parallels drawn to the temperature patterns in Kashmir resembling those of Delhi.
Implications of Reduced Snowfall
Short-term and Long-term Repercussions:
• The repercussions of less snowfall are multi-faceted. In the short term, the region may face increased forest fires, agricultural drought, and a decline in crop production. An early spring, triggered by the lack of snow, could adversely affect crop yields. In the long term, the impact extends to reduced hydroelectricity generation, accelerated glacier melting, and a potential threat to drinking water supply due to limited groundwater recharge.
• Beyond the immediate environmental concerns, the declining snowfall poses economic challenges. Industries dependent on winter tourism, such as ski resorts, are grappling with reduced footfall. Moreover, sectors like horticulture, crucial for the local economy, are witnessing adverse effects on yields of key produce like apples and saffron.
• The unprecedented lack of snow in Kashmir and Ladakh this winter raises serious concerns about the region’s ecological balance and economic sustainability. The complex interplay of factors, including changing weather patterns, declining Western Disturbances, and the influence of El Nino, underscores the urgency of addressing climate change to safeguard the region’s future.
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