The snowfall in Kashmir usually begins in late December, timed with the onset of Chali-Kalan, the 40-day period that marks the coldest time in winter.
Over the past two years, however, no snowfall has been recorded till late January. So it was with some surprise that Kashmiris welcomed the first snow of the season on Saturday, 3 November. There were photos taken, videos uploaded to social media — a celebratory air. Just hours later, that feeling had vanished.
Air and land transport between Kashmir and the rest of India was suspended, and the Valley plunged into darkness as the electric supply collapsed under just two inches of snow. When Kashmiris took to social media this time round, it was to critique the government for failing the people yet again.
"Exam season is on in Kashmir and students have been troubled by the lack of electricity," said a resident of the Valley, Basharat Ahmad.
Older Kashmiris said they didn't recollect when the Valley witnessed such an early snowfall. Abdul Hameed, from Anantnag, said: "I have seen this kind of snowfall for the first time in my life. The climate usually stays dry till late December. And in December and January, the snow comes as blessing for the Valley — especially its farmers and fruit growers.”
In Kashmir, autumn lasts from August to mid-November. This is also known as the 'golden season', during which farmers harvest their crops and stock up on food for the winter season. Many fruit growers were yet to pluck their produce — like apples — and pack them for exporting, when the snowfall began over the weekend. Now they worry about the fate of their fruit. Even those who have already sold their produce across markets in India are facing damage to their orchards, due to the untimely snow. Some orchards have been completely devastated.
Gh Mohiudeen lives in a far-flung area of South Kashmir. His family's livelihood depends on their 1,500 sq mt apple orchard. Most of Mohiudeen's apple trees were damaged in the snowfall, and the patriarch says he feels like everything has been lost. "This piece of land came to me after decades of work; it's the only 'asset' we have. I never thought it would meet this fate,” Mohiudeen says.
Experts said that snow in late November was not uncommon, but was an outlier this early in the month. The last time Kashmir received snow in early November was in 2008.
“The past few years have normalised warm winters and autumns, as a result of which, people haven't harvested their fruits on time," said Shakil Ahmad Ramshoo, professor and head of Earth Sciences, University of Kashmir. "Warm winters are an indication of climate change. Kashmir has erratic weather that can be attributed to global warming."
As Saturday's snowfall engulfed the Valley, passengers were stranded on the routes to and from Kashmir. Reports stated that more than 120 people, stranded on Mughal Road, were rescued by the authorities. However, many remained in a state of enforced immobility; at least some of these travellers were transporting perishable goods that threatened to spoil during this unscheduled and indefinite halt.
“We were stranded for the past two days near the Vessu area of Qazigund, on the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway," said Dilbagh Singh, who was driving a truck loaded with apples. "If the situation continues, these fruits will be spoilt."
An official managing traffic at Jawahar Tunnel — which connects Kashmir to the rest of India — said the authorities had cleared the roads by Sunday afternoon itself. "We have cleared the national highway from Qazigund to Banihal, except for those who have locked their vehicles," he said.
Meanwhile, even those Kashmiris who weren't on the road had several challenges to contend with. As snow piled on trees that hadn't yet shed their leaves, there was an ever-present hazard that they would their branches would come crashing down — on the roofs of adjacent homes. “We have a Chinar tree in our neighbourhood which is still full of leaves... the snow accumulated by these leaves makes the tree vulnerable to toppling down," said Nisar Ahmad, a South Kashmir villager who kept a tense and sleepless vigil through Saturday night, like others in his locality.
Officials at Kashmir's Meteorological Department anticipate light rain and snow in he next 24 hours.
“As per our forecast for the next 24 hours, there are some chances of rain and snow in certain areas across the Valley," an official said. "However, the possibility of rain on the plains, and snow in the hilly areas, is very low."
Updated Date: Nov 05, 2018 17:44:23 IST