Written by Manya Pandey, a first-year undergraduate student.
A cloudburst is defined as a “sudden violent rainstorm”. It’s basically a
sudden intense downpour (heavy rain) in a small area within a short duration.
It can be as short as a minute or last up to several hours. Cloudbursts are often accompanied by thunderstorms and sometimes hail.
What happens in a cloudburst?
Here’s what happens…
The air rises upwards sharply, which prevents the condensing raindrops from falling to the ground. As a result, a large amount of water (precipitation) gets collected in the clouds at high levels. Then when and if the upward air currents are weakened, all the collected water falls at one time.
Cloudbursts are especially common in mountainous areas.
Cloudbursts occur more in mountain regions because the lightweight warm air currents of a thunderstorm rise up the slope and create moisture-rich clouds (hot air rises up)
Why are cloudbursts more frequent now?
Scientists have cited climate change as a potential reason for such frequent cloudbursts – this is because polluted air can hold more moisture.
Last year the Indian Ministry of Earth Sciences published a report stating that mini cloudbursts have been on the rise between 1969 and 2015 along the western coast of India and in the foothills of the great Himalayas.
Also, the ministry stated that the rate of casualties appeared higher in recent years because of increasing settlements and tourism in the mountains.
Overcrowding in vulnerable areas may be a reason too
When large crowds of people gather at a place that’s already prone to climate adversities, it causes some changes in land use and may also increase pollution levels which adds to the persistent risk.
Uttarakhand has been the most vulnerable state in India. in 2019, there were flash floods caused by a cloudburst at Ramgarh in the Nainital district.
A cloudburst was also reported last year on May 12, 2021, from Tehri, Chamoli districts in Uttarakhand.
India suffered the worst one in 2013 near the Amarnath cave
There was a catastrophic cloudburst accompanied by violent flash floods at the holy cave of Amarnath in 2013.
Cloudbursts in Kashmir valley
More recently, Jammu and Kashmir suffered a cloudburst and flash floods in the Gunti forest area of Doda district recently in July 2022 but the 2015 cloudburst in the valley of Kashmir was the most prominent one in the state.
In 2015, the valley was struck by over eight cloudbursts in just three weeks.
Studies revealed that the moist warm monsoon winds got caught up in westerly disturbances (these are cold air currents coming from the Mediterranean sea). This resulted in a pressure system causing intense rainfall.
Difference between a cloudburst and a rainfall
It’s really about the quantity of water. A cloudburst is a heavy rainstorm.
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