Musings by Shekhar Nambiar
Winter’s idiosyncrasies are many. They are becoming peculiar by the year. So erratic have these become that there can be no accurate or near-accurate predictions of the severity or otherwise of the season any more.
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How this affects nature and its bounty is as important as human survival and existence. Studies have been conducted on bird and insect migratory patterns and behaviour. And there can be no doubt that climate variability and changes in weather patterns are impacting the way birds migrate from the North to their breeding grounds and for food. For Indians, this is a matter of great importance. It’s the winters that attract birds to migrate to the Indian subcontinent from as far away as Siberia, and make our Bharatpurs and Pulicat Lakes what they are.
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Just when people had started talking of no more ‘White Christmases’ came severe snowy conditions in the US this season. So extreme that several places went without electricity and heating, leading to deaths and misery. The snow storms were particularly severe in New York state and took a toll of over 30 lives in Buffalo city.
While the snowy Christmas brings cheer to people, it is biting cold in the northern parts of India. So cold you can hear the teeth chatter. Temperatures logged a ridiculous 2 degrees Celsius and below in the plains. Yes, not in Srinagar, but in Ambala, Lucknow and Delhi.
The freezing cold has had the old and infirm confined indoors, that is if they have a roof to sleep under. Out in the open, under the bare sky, there’s not much to expect or look for. Just need to find some hot food and somehow survive.
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Save we must a thought for those high up in the icy Himalayan heights, or in the Karakoram mountains in the Siachen Glacier, exposed to the elements. Out in the cold they are in extreme conditions seemingly protected by Arctic clothing and protective gear to keep the cold away, only to some extent.
Winters affect people in varied ways. Indian homes do not have heating. Houses are not insulated to keep the cold away either. The concrete walls and ceilings at best offer a roof and the basic comfort of a shelter. That’s about it.
Winters can be fun for the young and healthy. Many see the winter not as a season but a celebration.To those, especially from warmer climes, they can be treacherous and unwelcome. To many winters mean depression and pain and suffering. Pollution and smog add to the problem apart from travel disruptions from delayed train arrivals and departures.
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I have tolerated and survived many a winter season. Talking of climate change and weather peculiarities all I can say is there has been a sea-change to the manner in which the winters are playing out.
I recall wintry days setting in immediately past Diwali. As the Diwali festivities concluded, out came the winter woollies. And what followed was nearly four to four-and-half months of winter.
This season, and the year before, saw late onsets of winter. Yet, when it came finally, the cold has been vengeful, with Churu in Rajasthan recording an unbearable minus 1.5 and Delhi at 1.5 degrees, the lowest temperature in recent years.
Erratic winters, or any climate for that matter, can have a telling and disastrous effect on crops. So much is dependent on climate in India, winter, summer, heat, temperature and monsoon rains.
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Water of life
If all this is not the result of climate change, then what is? The utter unpredictability of it all is making things quite apparent. Climate change and its impacts are on us.
Going by old accounts and patterns, mid-November, even late October, is when nights turned chilly and minimum temperatures went below 15 degrees Celsius. Most parts of north India – Uttarakhand, Himachal, Jammu – witnessed a late arrival of the winter this year. Why, Shimla has been seeing so little snow in the past few years! It doesn’t take much to imagine what the effects of the melting of the Himalayan glaciers would be on our riverine system and on water as a resource.
With diminishing winters can it be foretold that the effect of global warming is upon us? Yes, maybe not! If you see the spike in summer temperatures in parts of India, you can make a good guess.
I rant and rave about the winter. But I wouldn’t want to swap it for anything else!
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