Unusual snowless, dry spell grips Kashmir winter, raises concerns amongst habitats

Heightened concerns over prolonged forest fires amid ongoing dry spell, promote religious ceremonies for rain prayers in Kashmir

Surinder Singh Oberoi
New Update
Deserted ski resort at Gulmarg, in Baramulla district

Deserted ski resort at Gulmarg, in Baramulla district

New Delhi: The winter season in Kashmir, renowned for its heavy snowfall and winter sports and tourism in destinations like Gulmarg, is experiencing an unusual dry spell, causing worry among locals and winter enthusiasts.

The scarcity of snow raises concerns about water availability for the region during the upcoming summer months.

The Meteorological Department (MeT) of Kashmir predicts a continuation of dry weather until late January, with no significant weather events expected until January 24.

Kashmir is currently in the midst of what locals call "Chillai Kalan," a 40-day harsh winter period concluding on January 29, followed by "Chillai Khurd" from January 30 to February 18, and "Chillai Bachha" from February 19 to February 28.

Traditionally, this period witnesses heavy snowfall, crucial for forming glaciers in the hills. These glaciers, melting in the summer months, contribute to a steady flow of freshwater in streams and rivers, supporting the local population and farmers in the summer and autumn months. However, this year's Chillai Kalan deviates from the norm, with dry weather prevailing and a noticeable absence of snow or rain.

The prolonged dry spell has resulted in an 80 per cent deficit in rainfall during December and January, raising concerns about water scarcity. Weather experts anticipate the dry conditions to persist, impacting the region's precipitation levels.

The day temperatures remain above normal, causing Srinagar to be sometimes hotter than Delhi. However, nights experience chilly temperatures with the mercury dropping below freezing, creating an unfavourable environment for snow or rain and even leading to many diseases like cold and cough.

Reports of forest fires have been escalating over the past several days, causing heightened concern across various regions. These incidents persist amidst an ongoing dry spell, with efforts underway to control the blazes in some areas, while at others, attempts are being made to bring them under control.

Sources suggest that the burning of grass contributes to the outbreak of forest fires, leading to reports of residential houses and other structures being engulfed in flames.

Typically, by this point in winter, the forests would be covered by a thick blanket of snow, minimising the risk of forest fires. However, this winter, significant snowfall is yet to occur in Kashmir.

If the current weather conditions persist in the coming weeks, there is a growing likelihood of an increase in fire incidents in both residential areas and forests.

Recognising the gravity of the situation, the fire and emergency services department has issued a preventive advisory. The advisory urges the public to avoid open flames, report suspicious activities, adhere to fire restrictions, plan outdoor activities carefully, and report fires immediately.

Gulmarg, a renowned ski resort, faces a lack of snow, disappointing skiing enthusiasts eagerly awaiting the season. Ski courses organized by the ski school for beginners are either cancelled or delayed due to the absence of snow.

In response to the worrying conditions, locals have turned to religious practices, organising special prayers, including 'Salat-ul-Istisqa,' a local religious tradition and collective prayers to seek rain and snow. These gatherings involve dua majlis and the distribution of yellow rice, known as "Tehar," as a plea to end the dry spell.

Despite the negative impact on agriculture, orchards, and tourism, there is a silver lining for the commuters on the Srinagar-Leh National Highway and other hilly highways in North Kashmir.

The dry spell has kept the highways open, benefiting travellers compared to previous years when it closed during the winter months, isolating mountain communities.

As emotional scenes unfold across Srinagar, with people expressing concerns about the potential drought, locals reflect on environmental changes that contributed to the current situation.

The traditional harshness of Chillai Kalan, while challenging, once promised abundant water, greenery, and a fruitful harvest. The wait for heavy snow continues in Kashmir.