Bird eye view of Kaza in Spiti. Photo used for indicative propose only

Devastating downpour strikes Lahaul-Spiti, stuns climate experts

Shimla, July 11

In a shocking turn of events, the district of Lahaul-Spiti, known as one of India’s three cold deserts, has witnessed an alarming surge in rainfall, recording an astonishing 3,640% excess precipitation. These unprecedented figures have raised serious concerns among climate experts and sparked fears for the fragile ecosystem of the region.

According to a report published by Down to Earth, a renowned web portal focusing on environmental news and information, Lahaul-Spiti district experienced an extraordinary downpour on July 9, receiving a staggering 112.2 millimeters (mm) of rain compared to the mere 3 mm it typically receives. This means that the district received an entire month’s worth of rain in a single day, shattering previous records set back in 1951.

The district, which usually receives 131.5 mm of rainfall in the month of July, has witnessed erratic weather patterns this year. Until July 5, Lahaul-Spiti had experienced a rainfall deficit of 74% below normal levels. However, within the last seven days, it received an astounding 638% more rainfall than usual. To put this into perspective, the entire state of Himachal Pradesh witnessed a 1,193% excess rainfall on July 9, 2023.

Residents of Lahaul-Spiti, particularly in the Spiti Valley, expressed astonishment at the deluge that inundated their homes and caused widespread flooding. Lobjung Sandup, a Spiti Valley resident, recounted never before witnessing such continuous rainfall, stating that the region typically receives very little precipitation. Sujata Negi, another resident, echoed this sentiment, highlighting the water shortage issues faced by the area due to its minimal rainfall. The unusual downpour has brought relief to the water-starved valley but has also resulted in the flooding of many houses and a significant drop in temperatures.

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Surendra Pal, the director of the Meteorological Centre in Shimla, confirmed that the recent rains had shattered numerous longstanding records in Himachal Pradesh, including the rainfall record in Lahaul-Spiti district that had remained unbroken for 74 years. He further emphasized the unusual occurrence of snowfall in July, which is unprecedented for the region.

Situated at an average elevation of 4,270 meters above sea level, Lahaul-Spiti is a sensitive area highly susceptible to excessive rainfall. With its cold desert ecosystem and sparse vegetation, heavy rains wreak havoc on the region, especially considering that a substantial portion of the district rests on glacial debris (moraines). The district has been grappling with diminishing overall rainfall and increasing temperatures in recent years, leading to adverse effects on agriculture and the occurrence of natural disasters.

Farmers in Lahaul-Spiti heavily rely on the May-August cropping season, with pea cultivation commencing after the snow melts in March-April and harvesting taking place in September-October. However, the inadequate rainfall this year, 66% below average in June, coupled with rapidly retreating glaciers and dwindling water sources, has already caused significant losses for farmers. Now, the sudden deluge poses a new threat, potentially damaging the already vulnerable crops.

The recent onslaught of heavy rainfall has not only exposed the vulnerability of Lahaul-Spiti’s delicate ecosystem but also posed challenges to the livelihoods of its inhabitants. Climate experts are alarmed by the unprecedented meteorological events occurring in this cold desert district, emphasizing the urgent need for further research and concerted efforts to address the impacts of climate change.

As climate change continues to disrupt weather patterns worldwide, Lahaul-Spiti serves as a grim reminder of the fragility of even the most remote and seemingly resilient environments. The challenges faced by this district should serve as a clarion call for greater awareness, adaptation strategies, and global cooperation to mitigate the far-reaching consequences of climate change.


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