January 20, 2012 Winter 2011-2012: Another cold and snowier winter for India
Commentary by Madhav Khandekar, former research scientist from Environment Canada and IPCC reviewer 2007
The winter season of 2011-12 has been significantly colder since mid- December and as of mid-January, many regions in north and central India are witnessing mean temperatures about 5 to 10 C below normal. Even in parts of south-central India mean temperatures are significantly below normal. The city of Bangalore ( India’s high-tech IT centre, latitude ~13N) is witnessing its coldest January so far. A couple of weeks ago, the minimum temperature in New Delhi, India’s Capital (population ~ 16 million ) recorded a minimum temperature of -5C! The maximum has been hovering at just about 18C to 20C for the past week or so. In the foothills region of the Himalayas (KashmirValleyand vicinity) the mean temperature has been just 3-5C, while some high-elevation locales reported a minimum at -18C and below. In the last two days (January 17-18) Kashmir valley received over two feet of snow and the main transportation routes have been blocked due to heavy snow amounts along the winding roads through numerous hills and mountains. So far over 200 people are reported to have been dead due to long exposure to low temperatures.
It must be noted here that most houses in northern India, including the Kashmi region DO NOT have any kind of heating system. Further most houses are built for summer weather with open windows (with very little insulation) so most houses remain cold through day and night. Many older houses in northern India have a small (electric) room heater but its usage can be expensive if the cold spell continues for long. Long cold spells can be stressful, especially for older people. Most people keep themselves warm by wearing extra layers of clothing at nighttime. The current cold spell is affecting perhaps over 500 Million people living in north & central India.
The past few winters have been significantly colder than normal for most of north and central India. During the long cold spell in last January (2011) and also the previous January (2010), several hundred people died of long exposure to low temperatures. The local TV footage showed many people, wrapped in blankets and shawls, and huddled along roadside camp-fires consisting of dry leaves, wood-pieces, twigs or even old pieces of tires, and other junk. Such roadside campfires add to the smog problem and affects human health.
Are winters in India and in some tropical latitudes (below 25-30N) becoming colder in South Asia? The exceptionally cold winter of 2002/03 in Northern Hemisphere brought a month long cold spell in Bangladesh and Vietnam where several hundred people died of long exposure to colder weather. In theKashmir Valley and vicinity, snow accumulation has increased since the new millennium. Elsewhere, snow has been reported in Tangier (Morocco), northern Algeria and parts of the Middle East in the last five years.
There is an urgent need to analyze whether winters have really become colder in tropical and sub-tropical regions of the Northern Hemisphere in recent years, The IPCC science appears to be obsessed with documenting warmer winters in Europe and North America, while paying very little attention to how the real climate is impacting Asia and Africa. A long cold spell, as being experienced by people in India at present, can be more stressful than a long summer, with temperature 40C or above. During summer, most people in northern & western India (States of Gujarat & Rajasthan) sleep outside on roof terraces or balconies. A few hours in the afternoon can be uncomfortable, but a small fan or an occasional cool breeze can (and does) help. A long cold spell in winter provides NO such relief!
Acknowledgements: Mr Barun Mitra (Liberty Institute New Delhi) provided some material ( based on his personal lifestyle at present) for this commentary. I am grateful to Roger Pielke sr for encouraging me to write on his website. My winter visits to India and to my former “home-town” Pune in the last seven years has motivated me to write this commentary.
Madhav also sent me this information from http://devconsultancygroup.blogspot.com/2012/01/big-pattern-changes-in-winter-coming.html
Austria Friday: found itself buried under 4 feet of snow, creating chaos and disruption of traffic and power supply. Snowfall trapped some 15,000 tourists at ski resorts on the Arlberg Mountain. High winds are also whipping the nation. An important rail line that connects Vienna and Innsbruck with western Austria and Switzerland was to be closed until Sunday. Two rail lines that connect western Austria with Germany were also closed.
India Friday: Hailstorm in parts of New Delhi and Amritsar. 3 feet snow closed down Kashmir’s main highway, and also knocked out power and telephone lines, plunging most of state powerless and cut-off from rest of the country. Temperatures in Leh plunged to minus 18.8 deg C. Many parts of Himachal Pradesh received snowfall, including surprisingly low altitude areas of the state. Records tumbled as many of these areas received snow after three decades or more. Kangra received snow after a gap of a whopping 67 years. Several villages of Pathankot and Hoshiarpur districts experienced snowfall on Saturday morning, the first in recorded history.
These two events may look unconnected but they need not. They occurred the same time as the AO flipped to its weakly negative mode.