Over two weeks after flash floods devastated Jammu and Kashmir, leaving seven dead and nineteen missing, India is once again coming to terms with the threat posed by cloudburst events.
In the aftermath of the flash floods that sent mud, rocks, and other debris crashing through the community causing widespread damage and fatalities, local officials in Jammu and Kashmir acknowledged that a cloudburst was the cause, dumping torrential rain at a rate of more than 100 millimetres per hour on the Hanzor area of Dachhan in Kishtwar District.
The flooding in Jammu and Kashmir is, however, just the latest example of how climate change is affecting rainfall in India with devastating consequences. Across Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, there have been instances too.
As many experts have identified, such cloudburst events are a climatic phenomenon – possibly because of increasing temperatures through the effects of climate. This allows the atmosphere to hold more and more moisture, particularly over areas such as the tropical Indian Ocean, and such moisture-rich air then has a greater likelihood to lead to periods of short, intense rainfall events known as cloudbursts which can result in droplets of 4-6 mm falling at a speed of ten metres per second.
Kerala cloudburst event helped identify link to climate change
As with any such cloudburst events, the potential effect of climate change on insanity and frequency must be examined to be better understood.
A study examining flooding in Kerala and structural changes in monsoon clouds over the west coast of India recognised one of the most visible examples of climate change affecting rainfall in India – a mini cloudburst event that occurred over Kerala in August 2019. While there were few casualties, the flooding occurred due to warm near-coast sea surface temperature anomalies that were unprecedented outliers among the dates examined.
The study published in Weather and Climate Extremes noted, “While depressions may always bring on heavy rain, the character of rain events could become more convective if sea surface temperature crosses a subtle vertical instability threshold. Such a change in character would have implications for flash flooding and impacts and may also be detectable by higher cloud tops, as seen above.”
Watching the ‘dance of clouds’ over the Himalayan states
Now, despite difficulties in predicting when these events will occur, we are seeing more and more occurrences that are linked to climate change.
As Health Issues India previously reported, several studies have shown that as climate change effects worsen, cloudburst weather events will increase in frequency and intensity worldwide. With climate change creating favourable conditions for cloudburst formation, the World Meteorological Organization predict there is a ninety per cent likelihood of at least one event per year between 2021 and 2025.
Of particular interest moving forward will be the fragile Himalayan union territory of Jammu and Kashmir which was the focus of the latest cloudburst event. With scientists attributing cloudbursts to global climate change affecting the entire Himalayan region that makes events localised, scientists are cautiously keeping a watch on the ‘dance of clouds’ over the area.
Yet with increasing sea surface temperatures, moist monsoon winds and cool dry western winds, the prospect of events similar to the recent flooding in Jammu and Kashmir looms over India.