Cloud Burst

Uttarakhand: ‘Cloud Burst’ in Syunsal; Administration disinterested in rainfall monitoring

On September 7, 2021 a ‘cloud burst’ incident was reported in Syunsal village area of Patti Chauthan. The village is located in buffer zone of Dudhatoli reserve forest in Thailisain block of Pauri district forming borders with Almora and Chamoli districts.

As per villagers the incident occurred around 02.30 am early in the morning. There was heavy rainfall spell since evening of September 6 in the region. Post mid night loud thunders and lightening were also experienced but in the darkness of night, very little could be seen.

It was only at dawn, that the villagers could see the impact of the downpour.  The first thing they saw was the green strip of vegetation along a local stream – common sight across hill slops in monsoon season – had gone away resembling a huge land slide.

Flash flood scars along Tudaay stream in Syunsal village after cloud burst. (Bhim Singh Rawat/SANDRP)

The village Sarpanch Sanjeev Kumar who visited the location named Tudaay first, video graphed the area showing huge muck, debris sludge and boulders flowing along the course of stream for a long distance downstream. The stream is part of network of streams which finally merges into Binu river a tributary of Ramganga.

The visuals, not seen before, caused curiosity among villagers who have only one word to describe the event ‘cloud burst’ and only thing the villagers are thankful for is that the incident occurred about a kilometer away from human habitation.

“Had this been day time, many cattle would have washed away as the land is used for grazing, it could have also caused casualties of villagers who usually accompany their cattle during day time”, says Manoj Bisht, husband of village Pradhan.

The deluge has scooped stream bed & filled it with huge boulders debris. Bhim Singh Rawat/SANDRP.

The deluge that rolled down the hill damaged several farm lands and destroyed crops over 15 nalis belonging to some 18 farmers as per preliminary survey by local administration. The path way section crossing the stream at Lambadi has been washed away. All along the course of stream several trees has been uprooted.

Damages to safety wall, crop lands along the stream at Lambadi. Bhim Singh Rawat/SANDRP.

Close to stream, large part of a safety wall which was recently built to check invasion of wild animals was also damaged. The flash flood has widened the entire stream course in village area and filled it with debris. Base of a foot bridge some 1 km downstream has been destabilized which may collapse during next round of flash flood.

The stream has widened its course and washed away scores of adjoining farmlands. Bhim Singh Rawat/SANDRP.

The intense rainfall spell has also flattened native crops of Kodu, Jhungara, Paddy on several fields just days before harvest time. Damage to boundary walls of several terrace farms have taken place. Part of courtyard of a house has collapsed creating threat to the house. Large portion of a under construction temple boundary wall has also caved in.

Slideshow showing impact of excessive rainfall, flash floods on village infrastructure, crops. 1st two images by Ashu. Last three images Bhim Singh Rawat/SANDRP.

The incident has again highlighted why monitoring and mitigation measures by government which are lagging far behind are crucial to apply to address the increasing threat of short term intense localized rainfall spell called ‘cloud burst’ by the locals happening frequently in the state. The IMD has technical definition of rainfall and since no one has measured rainfall during such events, IMD refuses to define them as cloud burst.

Screen shot of feed back by Dr. Madhavan Rajeevan.

To illustrate, when SANDRP tagged Dr. Madhavan Rajeevan former secretary, Union Ministry of Earth Sciences (IMD comes under this ministry), he responded on June 3, 2021, saying: “Yes, I agree there were many events in which damages have happened. I do not think these are really cloud bursts- it could be heavy rainfall events. I understand during pre-monsoon season when soil is little loose even moderate rains can trigger somewhat landslides and cause damages. Of course I am not an expert in landslide. IMD reports suggest that these are not cloud bursts (10 cm in 1 hour), but moderate rains. It may be possible IMD network did not capture this highly localized events. We are improving rainfall monitoring network over this region including installation of weather radars.” We hope all this happens soon.

SANDRP has been compiling ‘cloud burst’ events occurring in different states of Himalayas for past few years. Just in one month of May 2021, Uttarakhand has seen 24 such incidents of localized heavy rainfall.

This is second such incident in the Chauthan Patti this monsoon season. First one happened on July 28 in Dumdikot area located about 7 km away from Syunsal village. There has been similar ‘cloud burst’ event witnessed in June 2019 in Mason village of the Patti.

In all these three excessive rainfall incidents in Chauthan, it has been found that the rainfall data which is recorded at tehsil headquarters some 50km away and by IMD, Dehradun has been far less than it actually rained locally in these villages. About 50km radius area lying between Thailisain, Pauri and Gairsain, does not have a single rainfall gauge to properly monitor the changing rainfall patterns.

The reality of mitigation part is even worse as there is no facility set up by the government to timely inform the villagers regarding adverse weather events occurring at increased frequency across the state.

In the latest incident of Syunsal, while the local administration data finds only 8 millimeters (mm) of rainfall for entire tehsil for 24 hours ending 07:00 am on September 7, the IMD Dehradun reports of 4 centimeters (40 mm) rainfall for the tehsil for same day ending at 08.30 am. 

Rainfall register showing only 8 mm rainfall in tehsil on Sept. 7. Image by local administration.
Screen shot of IMD, Dehradun Daily Rainfall Report mentioning 4 cm rain in Thailisain tehsil on Sept. 7.

When asked why administration does not install more rainfall gauges in the block to study the ‘cloud burst’ phenomena which may be helpful in devising mitigatory mechanism, a local tehsil level official whose name, designation is not being disclosed said it would make no difference as compensation amount for damages whether caused by heavy rainfall, landslides, floods or ‘cloud burst’ is the same.

Villagers inspecting the area after the ‘cloud burst’ incident. Image by Ashu.

The official also cited lack of staff and structure required for the exercise. He agrees selected villagers could be trained for the task but is uncertain of when it would materialize. Clearly, the survival and safety of villagers’ lives and land facing such disasters in the state does not seem to be on urgent agenda of any of the agencies.

Bhim Singh Rawat (bhim.sandrp@gmail.com)

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