Weather turns severe in Uttarakhand

Situation likely to turn worse this weekend as more rains are expected

By Akshay Deoras
Published: Sunday 07 June 2015

Situation likely to turn worse this weekend as more rains are expected

Map showing Badrinath, Joshimath,Kedarnath in Uttaranchal state of India Courtesy- holidayindia

The weather has started throwing tantrums in Uttarakhand the past few days, forcing the authorities to stop the Char Dham Yatra earlier this week.

It has just been two weeks since the Badrinath temple dodged a weather bullet  when an alleged cloudburst swept away a 20 metre portion of the National Highway 58 (which connects Badrinath to New Delhi) near Lambagar in Chamoli District of Uttarakhand.

Those bad days are back it seems as hundreds (maybe close to 1,000) people are now stranded in the state because of ongoing landslides on the highway and heavy rains. Adding to the problems created by landslides, the rivers Alaknanda,Mandakini and Bhagirathi are now flowing near the danger levels, which has forced the authorities to shift the people living in around five-six villages (near the Mandakini river) to safer places and shut the schools in the areas. River Alaknanda is also flowing about three metres short to the danger mark in Rudraprayag area and same is the case with river Bhagirathi.

A newly constructed bridge after the 2013 Uttaranchal Disaster on the Saraswati River in Rudraprayag area broke due to the rains stranding tourists heading towards Kedarnath.

As per the news reports, around 300 tourists have been stranded in Joshimath area itself. Turning down the advisory given by the authorities and India Meteorological Department (IMD), India’s Yoga Guru Baba Ramdev and a group of large number of his students continued their journey to Gangotri and now have been stranded at the same place.

The situation is likely to turn worse this weekend as more rains are expected and once again nature brings Uttarakhand under the weather gun.

A meteorological insight

On Tuesday (July 15), a low pressure region from the Bay of Bengal brought very heavy rains in Central India, thereby improving rainfall conditions in India.

Vidarbha in Maharashtra received 138 per cent of normal rainfall (expected on a day) on Tuesday with many places witnessing a rainfall amounting more than 100 mm. These heavy rains flooded many areas of Vidarbha. Western Madhya Pradesh received 271 per cent of the normal rainfall of a day on Wednesday whereas Vidarbha again got 246 per cent more than a day’s rainfall.

Due to this low pressure, rainfall in India has improved and now stands at 36 per cent less than normal (unlike previous 41 and 43 per cent). Such low pressures often bring severe weather that is heavy rains and their paths are determined by the winds at the upper parts of the troposphere (lowest portion of the Earth’s atmosphere which hosts the weather systems) prominently at about 30,000 feet above the ground. A low pressure region is observed during the monsoon season across Tibet and the winds circulating around it drive these low pressure systems from Bay of Bengal, making it to move westwards through Central India. As in any low pressure system in the Northern Hemisphere, winds converge (move anti-clockwise at its base) and diverge aloft (move clock-wise at such 30,000 ft levels) the winds flowing at these (30,000 ft) levels across India follow a trend.

Weather Model Images courtesy- wxmaps/NCEP

The Image above is of the GFS (Global Forecast System) weather model  showing present winds at 35,000 ft above ground (aircraft fly in India at this altitude). One can see that the winds (their direction is shown by the arrowheads) are blowing in clockwise direction across northern half of India, over Nepal and Tibet. Hence any low pressure system or any cloud in northern India will move as per the winds displayed in this image—it will bend northwards and then north-eastwards. Red coloured symbol (L) shows where the low pressure is right now (on July 17) with Uttarakhand lying at the boxed location shown in black.

Hence its clear that the low pressure area will move close to Uttarakhand this weekend and will pull more moisture from surrounding areas and the Arabian Sea. Thunderstorms need moisture, energy and instability in the atmosphere to form and these ingredients will be available and hence thunderstorms bringing heavy rains are likely in Uttarakhand till at least July 22.

Precipitation model showing very heavy rains in Uttaranchal and Northern parts of Uttar Pradesh on 18th July-circled black. Red colour indicates rainfall upto 100mm (scale given on top right)

What happens now?
  • According to the weather models, heavy rains (may be up to 70mm or more) will take place in Uttarakhand at least on Friday, Saturday and Sunday (July 20).
  • Due to this, more landslides will be witnessed in the hilly areas especially on the Char Dham Yatra route. More portions of the roads will be blocked.
  • Considerable increase in the water levels of the rivers Alaknanda, Mandakini, Bhagirathi in this period. This may threaten the areas adjoining to the rivers more, leading to possible flash floods as the rivers will cross danger mark soon.
  • In such a weather event, the chances of cloudbursts also increase. If they happen, there will be a big threat to the stranded people as they may considerably increase the river water levels and add to flash floods.
  • As per the news reports, a small lake has formed at a considerable height above Badrinath Temple (lying at a distance of some 5km from the shrine). If cloudburst happens, this lake may burst out.
  • Bad weather will interfere with the rescue/evacuations and other operations in these areas and will create a big challenge for the authorities to evacuate more people.

Note of caution
  • A complete suspension of the yatra should be done till at least July 20. No person should be allowed to continue the yatra—be it a VIP or VVIP—even if the roads get repaired. 
  • Stranded pilgrims and locals should be immediately shifted to safer places and they should be kept away from the areas near the surging rivers. 
  • Stranded people shouldn’t panic and should co-operate with the authorities. They shouldn’t continue the yatra or neglect the advisories.

Akshay Deoras is an independent weather forecaster

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