(Feature image:- Local people, army personnel carrying rescue work at Honzar, Kishtwar after davastating cloud burst on July 28. Image source: Social Media)
The increasing incidents of cloud bursts in Himalayan states have been proving significant disaster for lives and livelihoods of native people, rivers and environment of the states. Since 2018, SANDRP has been compiling reports on these extreme weather events to analysis the frequencies and impacts. After documenting cloud bursts reports in pre[i] and during[ii] monsoon season in Uttarakhand and in Himachal Pradesh[iii], this is fourth and last report of this series in 2021, this one from Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and Ladakh Union Territories (UT). We have not come across any such incidents reported in North Eastern states this year.
Jammu & Kashmir
Amid day long hailstorm and heavy rains a cloud burst[iv] incident took place in evening hours of June 3 in Sharkoot village of Tarathpura area under Handwara division in Kupwara district of North Kashmir. Few houses were impacted and several paddy fields were destroyed by the resultant flash flood. The report suggests there were more cloud burst events but details of same are not available.
The hailstorm and rains also damaged horticultural crops severely in over a dozens of villages in the area including Aawura, Dooniwari, Dahama, Villgam. The local stream feeds the Tilari river which in turn joins Jhelum river.
On July 12, a cloud burst incident was reported in the afternoon hours from Watlar village[v], under Lar tehsil of Ganderbal district in Central Kashmir. This is the time when Mecleodganj and Bah valley of Kangra in Himachal also faced cloud burst devastation.
In the Watlar incident, the excessive rainfall led to flash flood in Charnari nullah, a tributary of Sind river. Several houses were invaded with muck and local roads were damaged after the deluge. No human casualty was reported.
There was heavy rainfall going on for past day across the J&K causing landslides, flash floods and road blockage at multiple locations. As a result the vehicular mobility was affected and hundreds of tourists were stuck.
The tunnel construction area in Mawarkot, Ramban also witnessed a landslide. At least 11 people were rescued following flash floods in Kathua district. A small bridge on Tawi river was reportedly washed away. Flash floods were reported[vi] across Jammu, Samba and Kathua districts. People belonging to a nomadic community were stuck in flash floods in Ujh river in the Rajbagh area and were rescued by police and SDRF personnel.
As per reports, Jammu district received 150.6 mm rainfall in 24 hours, which was the highest single day[vii] rainfall after July 7, 1986 when the city had recorded 172.6 mm rainfall. The official report showed that between 8:30 am on July 11 to 8:30 am on July 12, J&K registered 25.9 mm rainfall against the normal average of 5.4 mm. Rainfall was in large excess category[viii] in all the 20 districts for the same period. However, cumulatively 11 of the districts were rain deficit between June 1 and July 12, 2021, of current monsoon season.
In the intervening night of July 27-28, series of could bursts struck Kishtwar, Anantnag and Bandipura districts resulting in large scale destruction. Firstly, two cloud burst incidents took place between Machail and Chashoti village areas under Paddar valley in Kishtwar in late evening hours of July 27.
Then the Kiru village and Jawahar bridge localities in Lambard area in the same district also faced cloud burst induced deluges in late night hours of July 27. The most devastating cloud burst[ix] was reported around 04:30 am from Honzar village under Dacchan tehsil of Kishtwar.
Again these incidents coincided with massive cloud bursts in Lahul and Kullu districts of Himachal Pradesh. The affected areas along Chenab river in Kishtwar were just about 30 km away from Himachal border.
In Paddar valley incidents, the flash flood in local streams including Both nullah which feed Chenab reportedly washed away 4 local bridges[x] at Kundel, Sanyas, Sayogi and Padigaon locations. As the water level in local streams increased dangerously, about 60 residents in Padigaon area were shifted to safe locations.
The flash floods in Kiru and Jawahar bridge area also damaged drinking water installations, roads and bridges along the streams. Over 300 visitors including devotees on Machail pilgrim[xi] were stranded at various places. The famous pilgrim procession was suspended given the risks of landslides and damages to roads and bridges.
A report mentioned[xii] that a 350 metre road stretch of Chenab Valley Power Project (CVPP[xiii]) was washed away. There are four under construction hydroelectric projects (HEP) 1000 Mw Pakal Dul, 624 Mw Kiru HEP, 540 Mw Kwar HEP and 930 Mw Kirthai-II HEP in Chenab river basin in Kishtwar in this area.
Through Google Earth images it seems the Kiru HEP and Pakal Dul HEP are located downstream of Paddar valley and may have faced damages by the flash flood. However, media reports do not mention if any of these HEPs were damaged.
Then the Honzar cloud burst brought major calamity[xiv]. The flash flood in local nullah in upstream village washed away[xv] several homes killing at least 7 people immediately and washing away 26 people, who remained untraced for days. 17 people were rescued of which 5 were critically injured.
Of the total 35 homes in the village, about 21 were damaged severely apart from their cowsheds. A mosque and several dhaks (the helmets of nomads) were also impacted. The deluge swept away a ration depot and a bridge at Kiyar. As per reports, the cloud burst deluge cumulatively damaged or washed away over 20 big and small bridges in Paddar valley and Dachan division.
The incessant rains and damages to access roads hampered the rescue operation. The area also faced electricity and mobile network disruption. The Honzar nullah feeds Marau river, a tributary of Chenab.
One more cloud burst[xvi] incident was reported in morning hours of July 28 in Chachinar village area uphill Aloosa Ashtangu in Bandipora district of North Kashmir causing significant damages[xvii] to agricultural and horticultural land. The gushing water also entered several residential area partially damaging a home and a mosque.
The gushing water flooded Zaingeer Canal[xviii] damaging its banks at several places. An under-construction foot bridges that stood in the way of flood was reportedly washed away. The area is in Jhelum river basin.
Then around 03:00 pm on July 28, a cloud burst incident occurred near Amarnath Shrine cave[xix] in Pahalgam division of Anantnag district in south Kashmir triggering flash flood which pushed heavy boulders[xx] downhill. As a result, some camps[xxi] of CRPF and local police and few other facilities there were damaged[xxii]. Also a security personnel deployed there had narrow escape.
This holy shrine is located at an elevation of about 3888 metre above mean sea level and is visited by lakhs of pilgrims during July and August. Due to Covid 19 pandemic restrictions, the pilgrimage was suspended[xxiii] otherwise the deluge could have led to human casualties. After the incident, an alert was issued in downstream areas along the Sind river.
The area is landslide prone. Before this, a cloud burst induced landslide and flash flood on July 3, 2018 had killed 2 pilgrims and injured 4 others[xxiv] between Bararimarg and Relpathri halting places enroute to Amarnath shrine.
In the afternoon hours of July 30, a cloud burst hit Baba Wayil[xxv] locality in Padshahi Bagh canal area of Ganderbal district flooding residential houses in Sehpora, Safargund, Nuner, Chappergund and New Colony. The deluge also damaged a power canal that submerged nearby paddy fields and orchards. The affected area is on the left bank of Sind river opposite Watlar village where a cloud burst incident had taken place on July 12.
In early morning hours of August 2, the Baghpathari, Sumbal Balagund, Yachhama, Dard Wuddar villages were affected by cloud burst induced flash floods[xxvi] and landslide in Ganderbal district. The deluge impacted several homes and the affected villagers were moved to safe locations. Srinagar Leh highway was blocked due to debris and landslide. The agricultural crops and land were also affected by the incident in these village.
The report suggests it was four different cloud burst incidents. The affected areas are located along Sind river enroute Amarnath shrine. The Upper Sind HEP dam[xxvii] is located about 8 km upstream and the Baba canal carrying Sind water flows along the right bank of river.
Possibly the last incident[xxviii] of cloud burst of 2021 SW monsoon season happened[xxix] on September 12 in upper areas of Markote Hamam village under Rafiabad tehsil in Baramulla district. The resultant flash flood killed 5 members of Bakarwal nomad community including 3 kids. Nearly 300 cattle including sheep, mules and dogs were also killed in the deluge. The incident took place around 04:30 am in Kafarnar Bahak forested areas amid heavy rainfall.
The flash flood also submerged large areas of paddy fields and orchards, government buildings in downstream Dangiwacha, Watergam and other villages. A small bridge near Chanam village was reportedly washed away in the deluge.
A report termed[xxx] it a multiple cloud burst incident and mentioned about 12 drinking water supply schemes getting damaged, disrupting potable water supply to 64 villages. It quotes local people also fearing outbreak of water borne diseases in affected areas claiming carcasses of hundreds of animals were scattered in and around local streams there. Another report mentioned about rescue of 5 namads[xxxi] trapped in flash flood of Yath Yathur nulla in the area.
In intervening night of July 27-28, there were 2 cloud burst incidents[xxxii] in Kargil district under UT Ladakh. The first incident was reported from Khangral village located on Kargil-Leh National Highway while the second occurred at Sangrah village in Sanku division on Zanskar road.
In Sangrah incident a mini-hydro power project on Suru river suffered damages due to flash flood. The muck and debris deluge also blocked Kargil-Zanskar road. In Khangral incident some homes were partially damaged by cloudburst. The Khangral village is locate on the bank of Sangeluma chu river a tributary of Indus.
Seeing sudden deluge in local streams villagers at both sites moved to higher places for their safety and returned when water level receded. The heavy downpour also destroyed agricultural crops[xxxiii] on large area and disrupted potable water, electricity supply in several villages. Few cattle were reportedly washed away[xxxiv] at Panighar.
These are major cloud bursts taking place in Kargil after a long time. Before this, the Kargil area had seen multiple cloud bursts[xxxv] on July 31, 2013 and Leh in 2018, 2014, 2010 causing flash floods and infrastructural damages.
Some Relevant Reports
As per September 19 report in Greater Kashmir, the state government has commissioned two consultancy assignments[xxxvi] to increase the disaster resilience of J&K and Ladakh and increase the capacity of the UTs to respond promptly and effectively to any crisis or emergency. The initiative is being handled by Jhelum and Tawi Flood Recovery Project (JTFRP).
Officials said that the Multi Hazard Risk Assessment (MHRA) project carried out detailed hazard and risk estimations for J&K and Ladakh recently. Moreover, two applications have also been developed under this assignment, being the first of their kind in the two UTs, the officials said.
As per The North Lines, September 5 report, an X-band Doppler weather radar has been installed[xxxvii] at Meteorological (MeT) Department office area at Bantalab in Jammu. The Doppler radar would provide information about extreme weather events 2-3 hours in advance. Srinagar already has got a Doppler radar after 2014 floods and there is plan[xxxviii] to install third one at Banihal in Ramban district reads Amar Ujala’s September 4 report.
A report provides briefs on some major cloud burst incidents[xxxix] in J&K and Ladakh since 2015. Officially there have been 18 incidents of cloud bursts[xl] between June 2017 and July 2021 killing 18 and injuring 6 people in J&K and Ladakh. A January 2018, The Wire report carries some information on past flash floods and cloud burst disasters in Lakakh. This detailed report by Kashmir Life examines[xli] the causes, impacts and government interventions regarding increasing cloud burst phenomena in the region.
Robust Forecast based on Enhanced Monitoring Essential but Missing
SANDRP interacted with Irfan Rashid, Assistant Professor, Department of Geo-informatics, University of Kashmir, who have been studying extreme weather events including GLOFs, cloudbursts, avalanches etc. in J&K and Ladakh to understand the situation of cloud bursts monitoring and impact on local people as well as infrastructural projects. As per him there is a plethora of scientific literature that suggests that the frequency of extreme precipitation events, including cloudbursts, would increase by the end of this century.
“However, this involves an interplay between atmospheric circulation patterns, tele-connections, and radiative forcing of the earth’s surface primarily controlled by the land use land cover changes. While people living in the foothills of the Himalayan region are highly vulnerable, more research needs to be pursued to have a robust forecast of such extreme events”, Rashid adds.
When asked about status of rainfall monitoring system in the region Rashid states that there is a scanty network of meteorological stations in both the UTS of J&K and Ladakh which needs to be strengthened. He says there is need to add not only more weather monitoring stations but also to ensure their smooth functioning.
“The India Meteorological Department (IMD) which is the nodal agency for the installation of weather stations needs to ensure their smooth functioning. This is given the fact that many IMD-managed AWSs in J&K were recently reported as non-functional owing to loss of/snag in temperature/precipitation sensors. We hardly have any high-altitude (>3000 m above sea level) meteorological station in the UT of J&K. The strengthening of weather stations needs to be dealt with scientifically”, shares Rashid.
On the questions of efficacy of Doppler radar, the Professor appreciate the technology and feels it should be in Ladakh also which is topographically complex terrain. As for the efficiency he mentions the installation location is crucial. “The location of Doppler radars needs to be brainstormed. For example, installing the weather radars at places where there is the largest unobstructed line of sight would be prudent. That would require setting up the Doppler radars on some mountain peaks as IMD has done in Banihal area”.
According to Rashid mitigation is a very broad area and he suggests infrastructure development should be not be built cloudburst and other extreme weather hotspot areas. “But as I said more Research & Development is needed to delineate with high precision and less uncertainty of such hotspots”, adds Rashid. The Professor stresses on improving rainfall monitoring in the region as first step in the direction of understanding cloud bursts phenomena saying that it would aid forecasting and timely preparation mitigation actions.
Heavy rainfall days in SW Monsoon
Based on the daily rainfall reports of India Meteorological department for SW Monsoon 2021 months, the district wise heavy rainfall events (rainfall more than 50 mm in a day at district level) were as given in following table. Please note that only seven of the 20 districts of J&K had such events in SW Monsoon 2021 and none had such a day in June 2021. The two Ladakh districts had no such event throughout the SW Monsoon 2021. The rainfall on the listed dates in respective months was in the range 50-100 mm per day unless otherwise mentioned
|Districts||July 2021||Aug 2021||Sep 2021||Total No of days|
19 (100-150 mm)
|Riasi||12, 20, 25||28||8, 24||6|
|Samba||11, 26, 28||12||—||4|
|Udhampur||18, 20, |
25 (232.4 mm)
Riasi district had the highest number of such events at 6 during SW Monsoon 2021. Udhampur had the highest one day rainfall of all the districts in the state in SW Monsoon 2021, on July 25, the rainfall being 232.4 mm in a day.
|Date/ Time||Nos.||Drainage channel, River||Affected areas, villages||Block/ Tehsil District||Remark|
|June 3, Evening hours||1||Local streams Tilari river Jhelum||Sharkoot Aawura, Dooniwari, Dahama, Villgam||Handwara Kupwara||Hailstorm, heavy rains also witnessed on the day. Report cites multiple cloud bursts but lacks details.|
|July 12 Afternoon Hours||1||Charnari nullah, Sind||Watlar||Lar, Ganderbal||Coincided with similar incidents in Kangra, HP. Google Earth imagery shows excessive riverbed mining in Sind there.|
|July 27 Late night hours||4||Local streams, Both, Kundel, Chenab||Machail, Chashoti, Kundel, Sanyas, Sayogi Kiru, Jawahar||Paddar, Gulabgarh Kishtwar||Large scale devastation, Kiru HEP road damaged. Machail pilgrimage suspended. Coincided with similar massive cloud bursts in Lahul, Kullu|
|July 28 ~04:30 am||1||Local nullah, Nathan stream, Marau river Chenab||Honzar||Dacchan, Kishtwar||Deluge washed away over 40 people of which 7 died, 17 rescued and 19 remained untraced. Nearly 21 homes, 21 cowsheds damaged. Both Machail and Honzar incidents damaged over 20 big, small bridges.|
|July 28 Morning hours||1||Local streams Jhelum river||Chachinar, Aloosa||Bandipura||Zaingeer canal affected.|
|July 28 ~03:00 pm||1||Local stream, Sind||Amarnath cave||Pahalgam, Anantnag||The area has also faced cloud burst in July 2018.|
|July 30 Afternoon hours||1||Local stream, Sind||Baba Wayil||Ganderbal||Power canal damaged.|
|August 02 Early morning hours||1||Local streams Sind river||Sumbal Balagund, Yacchama, Dar Wuddar||Kangan, Ganderbal||Enroute Amarnath shrine. Upper Sind HEP is located in affected area. Report sounds it a multiple cloud burst event but lacked details of same.|
|September 12, Early morning hours||1||Local streams, Tilari river, Jhelum||Markote Hamam, Watergam, Dangiwacha Chanam||Rafiabad, Baramulla||5 people including 3 children killed. More than 300 cattle died. 12 water schemes damages. Local feared contamination of potable water sources. Report suggests it a case of multiple cloud bursts but adequate information is not given.|
|12||12 people killed, 26 missing|
|July 27-28 intervening night hours||2||Local stream, Suru river Sangeluma chu||Khangral Sangrah||Shanku Kargil||A mini HEP damaged. Few cattle, a bridge washed away. Area witnessed cloud burst deluge after many years.|
Google Earth interactive map of cloud burst locations in J&K and Ladakh (Bhim Singh Rawat/SANDRP)
Thus, according to media reports there have been 14 cloud burst incidents in J&K (12) and Ladakh (2) during south west monsoon season 2021. The maximum number (11) of cloud bursts (9 in J&K and 2 in Ladakh) happened in the month of July of which 10 occurred only in 3 days of July 27, 28 and 30. The months of June, August and September each have seen one such incident. There are at least three reports mentioning multiple cloud burst incidents however adequate details of same is not given.
In terms of devastation, just two incidents of Honzar (7) and Rafiabad (5) have killed 12 people while there is no update about 26 missing persons. The cloud burst deluge in Rafiabad also caused death of over 300 cattle posing significant threat to potable water quality in 64 dependent villages.
The cloud burst at Kiru, Sangrah have damaged Kiru HEP road in Kishtwar and a mini hydro project in Kargil. The August 2 cloud burst happened in Upper Sind HEP area but there is no information of its impact on the project.
The Machail pilgrim and Amarnath shrine areas were also affected by the extreme rainfalls. While, the Amarnath yatra was suspended due to pandemic, the Machail pilgrim yatra was going on and was stopped following large scale destruction to roads, bridges.
The Meteorological Centers, Srinagar[xlii] and Leh[xliii] have no report on rainfall and extreme weather events during this monsoon season. The websites provide no information on number of rainfall monitoring stations and gauges in these UTs. There are now two Doppler radars, one at Jammu and second one at Srinagar in J&K while Srinagar radar is functional, Jammu’s radar was found inactive as on Oct. 29, 2021.
Bhim Singh Rawat (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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