Climate Change

Warming Kashmir? Extreme events like current heatwave becoming more common, say experts

Srinagar recorded second hottest September day in 132 years this week; heatwave to last a week more

By Irfan Amin Malik
Published: Thursday 14 September 2023
The average temperature in Kashmir Valley for September is between 19.1°C to 24.6°C, but this year the temperature almost hovered around 30°C. Photo: Irfan Amin Malik

The Kashmir Valley is currently reeling under an intense and record-breaking heatwave. The summer capital Srinagar on September 12, 2023 recorded its second hottest September day in 132 years.

The high temperatures may also have an effect on the cash crops like apple, said an expert.

Srinagar city experienced its second-highest maximum temperature ever recorded in September since 1891, when the local weather observatory was established in the region, according to India Meteorological Department’s (IMD) regional centre.

A heatwave is declared for hilly regions when the maximum temperatures for a station reach 30 degrees Celsius or more or the departure from normal is 4.5-6.4°C. The average temperature in Kashmir Valley is between 19.1°C to 24.6°C in September, but this year, the temperature almost hovered around 30°C.

“On September 12, 2023, Srinagar witnessed a scorching 34.2°C (6°C above normal), second only to the all-time high of 35°C on September 18, 1934,” it said in a press statement. On September 13, 2023, the maximum temperature in Srinagar was recorded at 34°C and Qazigund, the gateway town to Kashmir, clocked 32°C — both a departure of 6°C from the normal. 

The heatwave in Kashmir will continue over the next week, the IMD has forecast, advising people, especially the elderly and children, to take a lot of fluids.

Sonam Lotus who heads the meteorological centre in Srinagar attributed the current intense heatwave in Kashmir to prolonged dry weather.“When it does not rain for a longer period, the temperature either does not fall or exceeds and with the result the heatwave is experienced,” Lotus told this reporter.

Kashmir received 188.9 millimetres (mm) of precipitation against a normal of 248.9 mm between December 1, 2022 and January 31, 2023. 

The ongoing intense heatwave is likely to continue in Kashmir for another 4-5 days, said Lotus. “The current dry and hot weather may continue for the next week and afterwards there may be some light showers in some areas.”

The current heatwave and dry weather is not new to Kashmir and has been experienced 50 to 100 years ago as well, said independent weather forecaster Faizan Arif. However, heatwaves like the current one are being witnessed with increased frequency, which is concerning. 

“In the past, extreme temperature events were rarely experienced, occurring once in several decades, but today they are reoccurring in nature and the record-breaking temperatures are witnessed in Kashmir more frequently,” he said.

Data collected by this reporter from different sources, including Kashmir’s meteorological department, showed the pace of extreme weather events in Kashmir Valley, an eco-fragile zone, has surged during the past seven years.

For example, on February 28, 2016, Kashmir recorded the hottest February in 76 years with a temperature of 20.06°C. Four years later, on August 17, 2020, Kashmir recorded the hottest August in 39 years with a temperature of 35.07°C.

Similarly, on July 18, 2021, Kashmir again witnessed the hottest July in eight years with the record temperature of 35°C.

The Kashmir Valley also recorded record breaking drop in temperatures as on January 30, 2021, the coldest night after 30 years. Last year, Srinagar recorded the warmest March in 131 years with mean minimum temperature at 6.7°C, which was the highest ever since at least 1892.

The Valley is also grappling with the changing weather pattern, said Arif.

“This year during winter, less snowfall was recorded during the Chillai Kalan, the 40-day harshest period of winter in Kashmir and then high temperature was recorded in the spring month of March. The first half of summer witnessed extreme precipitation and now in the ongoing autumn season the intense record-breaking heatwave is experienced,” he said.

The changing weather pattern also raises concerns about its impact on agriculture and its allied sectors. Unusual weather events, including heavy rains, scanty snow, increased frequency of cloudbursts have badly affected not just the daily life but also the key sectors of the economy in the valley — agriculture, horticulture, hydropower generation and tourism.

The intense heatwave is an indication of climate change and in the long run, the heatwave has tendency to hit Kashmir’s main cash crops — apples, saffron and paddy, said Tasneem Mubarak, chief scientist agronomy at Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology, 

For example, Mubarak said if the temperature goes above 25°C a hormonal change happens in the apple plant, impacting its physiology and overall performance. “Heavy precipitation can cause scab in apples and intense heat can affect the colour and size of the crop,” he said.

The lack of proper irrigation to saffron fields in Kashmir has reduced its acreage in Kashmir by 43.9 per cent over the last three decades. In 1996, the saffron was cultivated on 5,707 hectares but due to scanty rainfall and inadequate irrigation the world’s most expensive spice is now cultivated on just 3,200 hectares. 

The change in climatic conditions is largely driven by atmospheric circulation patterns in terms of the western disturbances and the Indian summer monsoon that bring precipitation into the region, said Irfan Rashid, who teaches at the department of GeoInformatics, University of Kashmir. 

Local contributing factors of climate change in the form of land system changes, deforestation, conversion of irrigated agriculture land, urban expansion and increased vehicular pollution is also responsible, Rashid added.

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