Ides of March

A cock­tail of weather phe­nom­ena is caus­ing freak rains in March. Sci­en­tists have no clue why


THE SIGHT of wheat, mus­tard, gram and fenu­greek crops spread over 10 hectares (ha) would fill Vidyadhar Olkha’s heart with joy. It was end of Fe­bru­ary and the crops were al­most ready to be har­vested. A week later, all he had was a mat of leaves and stalks ly­ing on the ground.The rain and hail­storm in the first week of March de­stroyed 70 per cent of his crops in Jhun­jhunu dis­trict of Ra­jasthan.

Olkha has no idea what brought so much rain this March. Nei­ther do sci­en­tists and weather fore­cast­ers, who at­tribute the rain to west­ern dis­tur­bances and have dif­fer­ent the­o­ries on what made the dis­tur­bances so se­vere this year.

West­ern dis­tur­bances are low-pres­sure ar­eas em­bed­ded in the West­er­lies, the plan­e­tary winds that flow from west to east be­tween 30°-60° lat­i­tude. They usu­ally bring mild rain dur­ing Jan­uary-Fe­bru­ary, which is ben­e­fi­cial to the rabi crop.But in the past few years west­ern dis­tur­bances have been linked to dis­as­ters. The cloud burst in Leh in 2010, the floods and land­slide in Uttarakhand in 2013 and the ex­ces­sive rain in Jammu and Kash­mir in 2014 were all linked to th­ese dis­tur­bances.T his year, as per the In­dia Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal Depart­ment (imd), the av­er­age rain re­ceived be­tween March 1 and March 18 was 49.2 mm—197 per cent above nor­mal. This caused se­vere dam­age to crops in sev­eral states of the coun­try. Ac­cord­ing to a state­ment by Union agri­cul­ture min­is­ter Radha Mo­han Singh in the Ra­jya Sabha on March 19, crops in over 5 mil­lion hectares have been dam­aged. But de­spite the de­struc­tion the dis­tur­bances have been caus­ing, there have been very few stud­ies to un­der­stand them.

Sci­en­tists agree that west­ern dis­tur­bances are formed nat­u­rally. They orig­i­nate in the Mediter­ranean re­gion and travel over Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pak­istan to en­ter In­dia loaded with mois­ture, where the Hi­malayas ob­struct them, caus­ing rain and snow in west­ern Hi­malayas.The snow adds to the glaciers which pro­vide wa­ter to In­dia’s ma­jor peren­nial rivers. But what is it that is mak­ing this ben­e­fi­cial weather phe­nom­e­non in­creas­ingly dis­as­trous?

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