Climate Change

North India Deluge 2023: Ladakh, a cold desert, received over 10,000% of its normal rain on July 8-9

Heavy rains are now a reality for Ladakh due to global warming; Ladakhis may now have to unlearn their former ways of living 

By Akshit Sangomla
Published: Monday 10 July 2023
This photo posted by Jamyang Tsering Namgyal, Ladakh MP, on Twitter shows a boulder that fell on Leh-Kargil Road near Lamayuru

The cold desert of Ladakh had a deluge of rains on July 8 and 9, 2023, which has brought to the fore its vulnerabilities to extreme rainfall, a consequence of global warming.

The occurrence was part of the extreme rainfall events all over north and northwest India due to a rare interaction of a western disturbance with the monsoon system, currently in an active mode over the country.

“It rained here for almost 24 hours and some of the old houses have leakages now. These houses are not adapted to such rainfall,” Sushant Guleria, a resident of Leh, told Down to Earth.

“There are also small landslides around Leh city. These heavy rains are disastrous for Ladakh’s vulnerable landscape,” Guleria added.

The Union Territory (UT) of Ladakh had a deficit in rainfall of 21 per cent on July 8, according to data from the India Meteorological Department (IMD). Kargil district had a deficit of 77 per cent and Leh district had a deficit of 8 per cent.

The region, being a cold desert, receives such meagre rainfall that the percentages of deficits can change pretty quickly. In absolute terms, between June 1 and July 6, Ladakh had received 4.7 millimetres (mm) of rainfall which was 17 per cent excess.

By July 8, the absolute rainfall for the period June 1 to July 8 increased to 5 mm, which was a 21 per cent deficit.

Suddenly, between July 8 and July 9 (8:30 am), the UT received 19.1 mm against the normal of 0.1 mm. This was more than 10,000 per cent of the normal rainfall. Now the absolute rainfall for the period June 1-July 9 is 24.1 mm as against the normal of 6.5 mm.

Between July 8 and July 9, Kargil district received 21 mm rainfall against a normal of 0 mm and Leh district received 18.5 mm against a normal of 0.1 mm.

This is not the first time that such unusual rainfall has happened in the region. An extremely unlikely cloudburst event had occurred in Ladakh region in August 2010 which was attributed to global warming by scientists from the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), Pune, according to Jammu and Kashmir State Action Plan on Climate Change (SAPCC).

The Ladakh region was a part of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir till August 2019. “With higher average temperatures in high regions, monsoon winds have reached Leh,” according to the SAPCC.

In recent years, more precipitation is happening in the cold desert region in the form of rain rather than snow. This has created problems for the people of Ladakh who now have to adapt to the rains.

The people of Ladakh traditionally used sun-baked mud bricks to build their houses which are able to keep the interiors warm during freezing winters.

In recent times, more houses are being built with cement which creates frigid conditions inside the houses, making it difficult to warm up the interiors.

“With change in precipitation to rain, new material has to be thought of with a design that can tolerate rain and also provide the space heating that is possible with baked mud bricks,” said the SAPCC.

“Getting the right material that is affordable is the new challenge to cater for both change in precipitation and allow natural space heating in winter,” it added.

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