Whiteout in Kashmir

With three spells of heavy snowfall of over 16.2 cm in January alone, Kashmir valley turned picture postcard beautiful receiving the thickest whiteout in 25 years. Meteorological department officials said a total of 23 cm snowfall has been recorded so far in the valley this year, and predictions have indicated more snow in the upcoming days. The last time the valley saw so much snow was in 1992.
In February 2006, it had snowed heavily too, but not comparable to this year with falling snowflakes coinciding with `chillai kalan' -the term for the harshest period of winter in Kashmir --from December 21 to January 30.

Kashmiris consider `chillai kalan' -when midnight temperatures drop to -10-20°C -as a blessing, as it sustains the Himalayan snow cover, ensuring irrigation water for rabi crop during summers. Heavy snow also attracts tourists to the Gulmarg ski slopes and recharges the water table in Kashmir.

This year, weather officials recorded seven feet of snow at Gulmarg, Sonmarg and Pahalgam, and the accumulation of one to 1.5 ft of snow on the city streets. The heavy snowfall was brought about by a western disturbance, an extra-tropical, non-monsoon precipitation pattern driven by the westerly winds. Continuous and heavy snowfall triggered landslides and shooting stones at several places, including Karol, Mehar, Seeri, Battery Chashma, and Digdol. It also closed down the 300 km Srinagar-Jammu highway for several days. Blizzards tragically also inflicted heavy casualty on the Army with 15 soldiers killed in avalanches in north Kashmir.

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