Why are cloudburst incidents increasing | K. Siddhartha

Why are cloudburst incidents increasing | K. Siddhartha

A cloudburst is an extreme amount of precipitation, sometimes with hail and thunder, which normally lasts no longer than a few minutes but is capable of creating flood conditions. Colloquially, the term cloudburst may be used to describe any sudden heavy, brief, and usually unforecastable rainfall. Rainfall rate equal to or greater than 100 mm (3.97 inches) per hour is a cloudburst. The associated convective cloud can extend up to a height of 15 km above the ground. During a cloudburst, more than 20 mm of rain may fall in a few minutes.

Cloudbursts happen when saturated clouds are unable to produce rain because of the upward movement of very warm current of air. Raindrops, instead of dropping down, are carried upwards by the air current. As the clouds are forced up in low temperature region, new drops are formed and existing raindrops gain in size. After a point, the raindrops become too heavy for the cloud to hold on to, and they drop down together in a quick flash.

An obstruction may also lead to accentuation of conditions that will lead to cloud burst. Most of the cloudbursts including the recent Himalayan cloudburst took place because of such reason. It is not essential that cloudbursts occur only when a cloud clashes with a solid body like a mountain.

Cloudbursts occurs when hot water vapour laden winds mix with the cold winds from the Himalayas resulting in sudden condensation. Hilly terrains aid in heated air currents to rise vertically upwards, This happens in two ways- by allowing water laden winds to absorb more moisture from wet Terai and then by allowing water laden winds to rise along the slope of the Himalayas.

Such mechanism of excessive rainfall is not unusual for the Himalayan region, nor such type of flooding is unusual as such an event takes place in one or another region of the Himalayas.

Himalayas received two such excessive rain years-One associated with 2013 Uttarakhand flash floods and the other Himachal disasters in Manali, Kullu, Chamba Mandi and virtually spread all over the Himachal Himalayas in 2023.
The results of cloudbursts can be disastrous. Cloudbursts are also responsible for flash floods creation. It is not essential that cloudbursts occur only when a cloud clashes with a solid body like a mountain. One such cloud burst in the Himalayan region occurred when the monsoon winds were rising along the slope of the Himalayas and were sucked further by the ascending jet streams resulting in a very heavy downpour that caused devastating floods and landslides in June 2013. Cloudbursts can also occur when hot water vapour mingle into the cold resulting in sudden condensation.

The heavy downpours often trigger landslides and flash floods, causing extensive destruction downstream. As climate change is warming the oceans fast, the moisture-rich air reaches the Himalayan region accelerating the intensity and duration of cloudburst events.

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