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Monsoon 2022: Is excess September rainfall to blame for the Danda-2 avalanche in Uttarakhand

Unusually high precipitation in the last few weeks of September led to heavy snowfall in Uttarakhand’s upper reaches, triggering avalanches, say experts
 

Uttarakhand State Disaster Response Force personnel. Photo: Varsha Singh Uttarakhand State Disaster Response Force personnel. Photo: Varsha Singh

Climate change may have had a role in causing the avalanche on the Danda-2 peak in Uttarakhand October 4, 2022. Experts this reporter spoke to, pointed towards the heavy rain in the state last month.

Heavy rains lashed India in the last few weeks of September. Lower altitudes in Uttarakhand reported intense downpours while higher elevations witnessed heavy snowfall. This, say scientists, could have had a hand in the Danda incident.

Manish Mehta, a scientist at the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology in Dehradun, said: “The occurrence of an avalanche indicates that more snow has deposited on a mountain peak than it can support. This excess snow slides down the slope of the mountain, causing an avalanche.”

He called the Danda incident a ‘powder avalanche’ where fine, loose snow slides down a mountain.

The Danda-2 peak is situated in the Draupadi ka Danda area at a height of 5,006 metres above sea level in Uttarakhand’s Uttarkashi district.

The avalanche took place October 4 morning. A group of 29 trainee mountaineers and seven experts were descending at the same time and were trapped in the avalanche, according to the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (NIM), Uttarkashi.

The Uttarakhand police said in a statement at 6 pm October 4 that 17 of the group may be safe. Four bodies have been recovered so far.

A team from NIM, the district administration, National Disaster Response Force, State Disaster Response Force, the Indian Army and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police are engaged in rescue efforts. But bad weather is hampering the search for survivors.

Avalanches also occurred in the Kedarnath Valley September 22, September 26 and October 2. One of them happened just five kilometres away from the Kedarnath temple at the Chorabari glacier.

DP Dobhal, a retired glaciologist at the Wadia Institute pointed to the heavy rains in September, something that Mehta too had noted.

“There has been greater amount of snowfall in the higher reaches of the state this monsoon. When the slope of a peak increases to more than an angle of 40-50 degrees and the snow deposited on that slope is more than 2-2.5 feet, an avalanche occurs because of weight and gravity,” he said.

The southwest monsoon usually starts to retreat from Uttarakhand in the first week of September. This year though, it rained in the last week of the month which was 20-59 per cent above the average.

The rainfall for the state during the entire month was 267.6 per cent above the average figure of 182.4 millimetres. The state otherwise recorded normal rainfall from June 1-September 30.

This is also not the first time that avalanches in Uttarakhand have happened at this time of the year. Four naval personnel were caught in an avalanche October 1 last year on the Trishul peak near the Nanda Devi Sanctuary.

The scientists from the Wadia Institute are probing other possible reasons as to why the avalanches could have occurred.

Meanwhile, the Meteorological Department has forecast heavy rains in the state October 5-8. There is a Yellow Alert in place October 5, Orange Alert October 6 and Red Alert October 7. Rivers may swell and there is also a chance of landslides.

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