Unseasonal rain and snow reduces electricity demand and brings windfall for the hospitality sector
Apple and almond trees, which need warmth to blossom and bear fruit, have been damaged and the wheat harvest could be threatened.
Apple and almond trees, which need warmth to blossom and bear fruit, have been damaged and the wheat harvest could be threatened. But there is a proverbial silver lining to this excessive rain in March, usually a transition period between winter and summer.
It has created a huge reserve of Himalayan snow that will melt and feed rivers in the summer, besides filling up major reservoirs to a level one third more than normal, adding to the stock of water for irrigation and hydropower generation. India will need it to combat below-normal rainfall, which seems likely as the El Nino phenomenon may hinder the progress of the monsoon this year.
Another western disturbance in the offing
For the energy sector, cool weather has reduced household demand for electricity as the extended winter has delayed the use of air-conditioners and coolers. Lower demand along with improved supply drastically narrowed India’s peak electricity deficit to 3.3% in February from 13.7% a year ago – a trend that is likely to continue.
The lower power deficit in turn reduces demand for diesel used by standby generation sets. In Kashmir, the March snowfall damaged apple trees, upsetting the Rs 3,200 crore economy, and killed off the flowering of almond trees. “You can safely say that one-fourth of the big apple trees have suffered damage to the extent of 70%,” said Wasim Wani, an apple grower in Shopian. “We have fixed the broken branches but they would not be able to bear fruit this season.” Sonam Lotus, director of Kashmir’s meteorological department, said the weather is the coldest in a decade.
This has been a windfall for the hospitality sector, which is gaining from the extended skiing season at Gulmarg and tourists and honeymooners elsewhere in the state. “We had better arrival of couples this season,” said Nazir Ahmad, a travel industry executive. Rainfall in March has been unusually high as six weather systems, known as western disturbances, have lashed the Himalayas and spilled over into the plains of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and parts of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
Normally, March sees three such systems that originate from the Mediterranean region and bring rainfall to Iran, Pakistan and northern India. Rainfall in March has been about 30% above average, which has increased soil moisture and will help the next crop. “We might see another western disturbance developing in the next week bringing snow and rain in hills and plains of northwest India,” said GP Sharma, chief meteorologist, Skymet Weather Services.
He said this year’s unseasonal rain was comparable with that of 2007 when there was above normal rain and snow in the hilly reaches. Kashmir’s Lotus echoed this. “Kashmir gets average rainfall/snowfall of 70 mm in March but so far (three days of the month left), we have recorded 212 mm,” he said. Chandigarh-based Snow and Avalanche Study Establishment director Ashwa Ghosh Ganju said the snowfall was more than that of the previous year.
“What is abnormal is that there are more rains in foothills and plains of north India,” he said. The cool weather conditions could also lead to the late onset of summer. Current temperatures in the plains of northwest India are 30-32 degree Celsius. An India Meteorological Department scientist said the temperature should ideally be 35-37 degrees Celsius by the end of March. “March is a transition month between winters and summers.
We can see variability in temperatures after every four-five years,” said the IMD scientist. As per Central Water Commission figures, water in 85 important reservoirs in the country on March 28 was 65.06 billion cubic metres (bcm), 42% of the total storage capacity, compared with 52.5 bcm last year.