Climate Change

North India Deluge 2023: Lahaul-Spiti’s cold desert receives a third of seasonal rain in a day

A village in the district has also received snow in July, a highly unusual phenomenon

By Raju Sajwan, Rohit Prashar
Published: Monday 10 July 2023
A section of the Manali-Leh Road collapsed due to a landslide near Sirsu nursery in Lahaul-Spiti district. Photo: DD News Himachal

The entire state of Himachal Pradesh received 1,193 per cent excess rainfall on July 9, 2023. But the most concerning figures have been recorded in the district of Lahaul-Spiti, which received 3,640 per cent excess rainfall.

Meanwhile, Losar village in the district received snowfall for the first time in July. The fact that these incidents have taken place in Lahaul-Spiti, one of three cold deserts in India, is something that has added to the concerns of climate experts.

The district received 112.2 millimetres (mm) of rain on July 9, compared to the 3 mm that it should have received. That is, it received 3,640 per cent more rain.

Usually, Lahaul-Spiti receives 131.5 mm rainfall in the month of July. This means that on July 9, the district received a month’s worth of rain.

The last time a record was broken in the area was in 1951, when Lahaul-Spiti had recorded 73 mm rainfall in 24 hours.

The erratic rainfall in Lahaul-Spiti district can be gauged from the fact that till July 5, the district had received 74 per cent less rainfall than normal. But during the last seven days, it has received 638 per cent more rainfall than normal. The district normally receives 394.7 mm rainfall during the monsoon. But in just one day (July 9, 2023), it received one-third rain of the entire monsoon season.

Lobjung Sandup, a resident of the Spiti Valley, told Down to Earth (DTE) that he had seen so much rain fall continuously for the first time in his life during the last three days.

He added that there is very little rain in the Spiti Valley usually. But this time, there has been so much rain that many people’s houses have also been flooded. The temperature of the valley has also come down due to the unusual rain.

Sujata Negi, also a resident of the Spiti Valley, told DTE that this is the first time she is seeing so much rain in the valley: “Our area receives very little rainfall but this time we have seen a lot of rain in three days. This will provide relief to the people of the Valley from the water shortage due to lack of rain in Lahaul-Spiti district, which has been facing rain shortage for decades.”

Surendra Pal, director, Meteorological Centre, Shimla, told DTE that the rains over the last three days have broken many old records in Himachal Pradesh. Lahaul-Spiti district has broken the record of rainfall of the last 74 years, he added.

He added that snowfall in July was an unusual phenomenon in Lahaul-Spiti district. 

 Heavy snowfall in Losar village of Lahaul-Spiti district. Photo: Rohit Prashar

This area is very sensitive to excessive rainfall. Situated at an average of 4,270 metres above sea level, this district receives snowfall for about four months in winter.

Due to snow, the vegetation in the district, especially in the Spiti area, is negligible and this entire area is known as a cold desert. Since a large part of the district is nestled on the debris of melted glaciers (moraines), heavy rains become a nuisance for the region.

However, the overall rainfall in this district is decreasing and temepratures are increasing. But due to heavy rains in a single day, accidents are increasing. Last year, on July 31, 2022, Lahaul-Spiti suffered a lot of damage due to flash floods and landslides caused by heavy rains.

May-August is the only cropping season in this district. After the snow melts in March-April, pea sowing begins in the higher reaches of Spiti. They are harvested in September-October. But this time, farmers here are suffering heavy losses.

Crops require average rainfall in June for post-sowing irrigation. But in June 2023, the district received 66 per cent less rainfall. Less rainfall has become a problem for farmers as glaciers are retreating rapidly due to rising heat in the region and they are not getting water from springs and sources for irrigation.

Now that the rain has been so heavy, it can cause damage to the crops.

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