Uttarakhand Rainfall: Since 1901 and in light of the 2013 disaster

During the tragic Uttarakhand disaster, one of the most discussed but the most elusive topics has been rainfall. Uttarakhand, though having experienced frequent extreme weather events, has a poor distribution of rain gauge stations and weather monitoring. The worst hit districts like Rudraprayag, Chamoli and Pithoragarh have especially dismal distribution of monitoring stations, making it impossible for us to understand the intensity of rainfall in places like Kedarnath when the disaster struck. (https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/06/21/uttarakhand-deluge-how-human-actions-and-neglect-converted-a-natural-phenomenon-into-a-massive-disaster/)

According to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) June 2013 rainfall was over thrice the normal amount between June 1 and 21. The highest figure quoted by IMD was 370 mm a day at Dehradun, which was said to be ‘a record not seen for five decades’. IMD has also said that in the week of 13th to 19th June, the entire state of Uttarakhand received 847% excess rainfall, and that this has no precedent.[1] However, according to experts, this generalisation of a very diverse state does not depict the true picture.

Nonetheless, it is worthwhile to string together whatever data we have on Uttarakhand’s rainfall in order to get a clearer picture of rainfall trends, and also underline the fact that Uttarakhand and all the other Himalayan States need a much denser network on weather monitoring stations, representation all altitudes, river basins & sub-basins and climatic zones. Only then will the data be a useful tool in planning and forecasting.

In this piece, we have tried to analyse rainfall datasets of the hundred years (1901-2000) for some of the worst affected and vulnerable districts of Uttarakhand. This data has been obtained from Indian Meteorological Department. Districts analysed include Uttarkashi, Rudraprayag, Haridwar, Chamoli, Tehri Garhwal, and Pithoragarh.

While we have rainfall data from 1901-2000 (with some gaps), there is a gap in the data during 2000-2008. Then again we have data from 2008-2012 and 2013 till 25th September 2013. (All figures from IMD – India Meteorological Department – http://imd.gov.in/).

What we have attempted here is:

1.     Identification of Top 5 Maximum and Minimum rainfall events in the selected 7 districts in the past 100 years. Comparison of these values with 2013 Maximum monthly rainfall

Interesting to note that the only time when 2013 monthly (approximate, as we have weekly figures from IMD, not monthly ones) features in top 5 monthly rainfall is for Chamoli, in July 2013! 537.9 mm rainfall it received in July 2013 was the second highest recorded rainfall in the district since 1901-2000 and 2008-2013.

2.   100 year monthly monsoonal and annual rainfall for selected 7 districts, 2008-2012 monsoonal and annual rainfall for selected 7 districts.

3. 2013 weekly rainfall collated in respective months for June, July and August for the seven districts.

Results:

1.             Dehradun: 

  • Maximum monthly rainfall in last 100 years during monsoon months (Same for all districts below): 1271 mm in August 1943
  • Minimum rainfall in last 100 years during monsoon months: 20.4 mm in June 1965
  • Maximum rainfall of 2013 compared with the 5 previous maximums: In August 2013 it received 676.7 mm rainfall which was maximum for the district in 2013 monsoon.

However, this did not figure amongst the top 5 values for monsoon rainfall in the period considered.

  • Rainfall during the week 13-06-13 to 19-06-13: 565.4 mm
  • Departure from normal for the same week – 1436%

Dehradun_Reshaped

Deharadun_100_Years

2. Uttarkashi:

  • Maximum rainfall in last 100 years: 800.8 mm in August 1963
  • Minimum rainfall in last 100 years: 36.8 mm in June 1987 
  • Maximum rainfall of 2013 compared with the 5 previous maximums: In 2013, 529.9 mm received in June was the highest for the 2013 monsoon season.

However, this does not feature among the top 5 values for monsoon rainfall in the period considered.

  • Rainfall during the week 13-06-13 to 19-06-13: 375.6 mm
  • Departure from normal for the same week: 1356%

Uttarkashi_ReshapedUttarkashi_100_Years

3. Tehri Garhwal-

  • Maximum rainfall in last 100 years 1097 mm in September 1995
  • Minimum rainfall in last 100 years- 0 mm in September 1997
  • Comparison of 2013 max rainfall with the previous 5 maximum: In 2013, 453.4 mm rainfall received in June was the highest for the 2013 monsoon season.

However, this does not feature among the top 5 values for monsoon rainfall in the period considered.

  • Rainfall during the week 13-06-13 to 19-06-13: 327.7 mm
  • Departure from normal for the same week – 390%Tehri Garhwal_ReshapedTehri Garhwal_100_Years

4. Haridwar-

  • Maximum rainfall in last 100 years: 848.2 mm in September 1924
  • Minimum rainfall in last 100 years: 0 mm in September 1971
  • Maximum rainfall of 2013 compared with the 5 previous maximums: In 2013, 426 mm rainfall received in August was the highest for the 2013 monsoon season.

However, this does not feature among the top 5 values for monsoon rainfall in the period considered.

  • Rainfall during the week 13-06-13 to 19-06-13: 298.8 mm
  • Departure from normal for the same week – 1283%

Hardwar_Reshaped

Hardwar_100_Years

5. Rudraprayag

  • Maximum rainfall in last 100 years 914.6 mm in August 1925
  • Minimum rainfall in last 100 years 0 mm, in September 1971
  • Maximum rainfall of 2013 compared with the 5 previous maximums: In 2013, 664 mm rainfall received in June was the highest for the 2013 monsoon season.

However, this does not feature among the top 5 values for monsoon rainfall in the period considered.

  • Rainfall during the week 13-06-13 to 19-06-13:366.3 mm
  • Departure from normal for the same week – 580%

Rudraprayag_ReshapedRudraprayag_100_Years

6. Pithoragarh-

  • Maximum rainfall in last 100 years 1057 mm in August 2000
  • Minimum rainfall in last 100 years 22 mm in June 1901
  • Maximum rainfall of 2013 compared with the 5 previous maximums: In 2013, 471.9 mm rainfall received in July was the highest for the 2013 monsoon season.

However, this does not feature among the top 5 values for monsoon rainfall in the period considered.

  • Rainfall during the week 13-06-13 to 19-06-13: 246.9 mm
  • Departure from normal for the same week – 238%

 Pithoragarh_ReshapedPithoragarh_100_Years

7. Chamoli

  • Maximum rainfall in last 100 years860.7 mm in September 1924
  • Minimum rainfall in last 100 years– 0 mm in 1998
  • Maximum rainfall of 2013 compared with the 5 previous maximums: In 2013, 537.9 mm rainfall received in July was the highest for the 2013 monsoon season.

It was a second maximum recorded rainfall since 1901-2000 and 2008-2013.

  • Rainfall during the week 13-06-13 to 19-06-13: 316.9 mm
  • Departure from normal for the same week – 1302%

Chamoli_Reshaped

Chamoli_100_Years

8. For Uttarakhand state-

  • Maximum rainfall in last 100 years685.6 mm in August 1922
  • Minimum rainfall in last 100 years 28.1 mm in September 1907
  • Maximum rainfall of 2013 compared with the 5 previous maximums: In 2013, 510.4 mm rainfall received in June (June 1 to July 3) was the highest for the 2013 monsoon season.

However, this does not feature among the top 5 values for monsoon rainfall in the period considered.

 

Uttarakhand_ReshapedUttarakhand_100_years

In conclusion While presenting data for entire districts, we realise that there have been major variations in rainfall experienced within a district, for example, parts of Pithoragarh received extremely high rainfall during 15th-19th June, but the average rainfall for Pithoragarh District in June 2013 (Period between 06.06.13-03.07.13) is only 418.4 mm. The week between 13 June 2013-19th June 2013 shows only 238% departure from normal rainfall, when the higher reaches of Pithoragarh received some of the heaviest rainfall in Uttarakhand in June 2013.

As per researcher Emmanuel Theophilus, from Himal Prakriti at Munsiyari, Pithoragarh, the rainfall data with IMD for the entire Pithoragarh Districts  is  only from 2 stations in  the mid altitude areas, where it hardly rained much. Hence, the discrepancy, of Pithoragarh having only a 238% departure from normal, whereas the NASA maps show one of the darkest blue spots in Pithoragarh as well. In addition, he says: “IMD has only a very few stations scattered sparsely over the state, and what they have, are located in central district and sub-division office locations. Sure this makes for easy gathering of data, but is of little use for understanding any particularities, even at the sub-basin scale. In just the Gori sub-basin (Pithoragarh) for example, rainfall can vary from 15 cm annually, (spread over ~28 rainy days a year, and not counting snow) in the higher alpine Trans-Himalaya reaches, to as much as 4 meters, yes meters, of rain annually (spread over ~152 rainy days a year, and again not counting snow) just 50 km downstream, in the Greater Himalaya. Therefore, statements such as ‘the entire state of Uttarakhand received 847% excess rainfall’, can be misleading.”

After the Uttarakhand Disaster of unprecedented proportions, let us hope that now IMD, Uttarakhand Government, heavily funded programs like National Climate Mission, Universities, research institutes[2], etc can come together to create reliable and representative weather monitoring stations in the vulnerable state. Only through such data will a robust forecasting system be supported.

Damodar Pujari and Parineeta Dandekar

END NOTES:


[1] From Emmanuel Theophilus: A River Pulse. A discussion paper on the flood-events in June 2013, Mahakali basin, Uttrakahand. Himal Prakriti, Sept 2013

[2] Here it may be noted that some institutes have their own automatic and other rain-gauge stations, but data from such stations is not in public domain. For example, Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology (http://www.wihg.res.in/) is supposed to have at least two automatic weather stations at Chorabari lake upstream of the worst impacted Kedarnath, but the data from these stations was not put up in public domain promptly or even now. Such data can be of great use for disaster forecasting, management and other purposes, but cannot be put to use without the data being in public domain.

3 Comments on “Uttarakhand Rainfall: Since 1901 and in light of the 2013 disaster

  1. It is heartening to see a change in the environmental behavior for better, thanks to the silent contributions by 130 Infantry Battalion TA Ecological KUMAON team existing in Pithoragarh since 1994. They are a driving force in the restoration of the green hills around Pithoragarh and Almora districts

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  2. In my perception cloud is generated in the sea. For making rain fall clouds need to be supersaturated. In the sea it gets plenty of more vapour to be supersaturated and 80% of the cloud comes down as rain in the sea. As it proceeds towards land it gets vapour from rivers, ponds, various water bodies, trees etc and cloud discharges rain and gradually becomes dry. Now in the name of development water bodies have been filled up, plants have been cut down mercilessly, crores of vehicles are plying in the plain land, every litre of petrol / diesel the vehicles consume discharges 8500 kilo calories of heat in the ambiance. Apart from this a few lakh mega watt power is generated consuming fuel; each kw electricity needs 0.5kg coal and its heat is added into ambience. As a result, in place of getting vapour clouds are driven away by hot air and clouds with huge water goes to Himalayas and cannot cross the same and it has increased discharge. To overcome this there should at least one fountain for each powered vehicle. A good portion of the cooling water from power plants should be used to wash roads so that this adds vapour to the ambiance. The disaster in Uttarakhand was due to bursting of the Chiraburu lake which is about 14,000 ft above sea level and there was no construction; the bursting was due to huge cloud burst at such altitude. To stop this type of disaster rain fall should ensured more in plain land so that drier cloud should be there at high altitude. Otherwise such disasters will continue.
    Apart from this, if possible there should be more rope way than roads; roads should be of white colour, in place of big hotels paying guest tourism should be preferred in Himalayan areas, trees planted there should be chosen properly, mining should be hand-pick mining, no detonator should be used. Detonators create cracks, water goes into cracks and get expanded as it forms ice and crack the stones and causes landslides.

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