The recent unexpected weather change at the end of April and beginning of May has badly affected Chardham Yatra in Uttarakhand. The opening of the gates of Kedarnath on April 24 ushered in the rain and snowfall, which continued until just a day earlier. The situation was made worse for the pilgrims by two avalanches on the Kedarnath trek and a large landslide near Helang on the Badrinath route.
Extreme weather conditions
On May 3, around 5 PM, a large amount of fresh snow slid and accumulated on the road near Kuber Gadera on the Kedarnath route. Another avalanche hit the same spot the next morning. The avalanche struck two nearby caves, leaving an island in the middle where four Nepali pilgrims were trapped.
However, with the help of ropes, the police and SDRF pulled them out safely. Also, due to the possibility of heavy rain, the registration process for pilgrims heading to Kedarnath has been halted until May 7.
On Monday, three Gujarat pilgrims were injured when their car skidded off the road due to slippery conditions caused by rain and plunged into a 30-meter-deep gorge near Kirti Nagar in Tehri district. The accident happened when the pilgrims were returning from the Kedarnath shrine.
All the injured were rescued by Tehri police and rushed to Srinagar district hospital for treatment. Four others in the car were uninjured. Frequent rain and snow have also caused a minor avalanche near the Neelkanth peak, blocking the Rishikesh-Badrinath highway for six hours due to a landslide near Govind Ghat.
An Andhra Pradesh woman has died after being struck by a falling rock while boarding a vehicle in Kharadi village on her way to the Gangotri shrine from Yamunotri.
Uttarkashi, Rudraprayag, Chamoli, Tehri, Pauri and Dehradun districts all experienced heavy to moderate rain with brief snowfall at Kedarnath Sanctuary on Monday.
snowfall in April and May are unpredictable
The occurrence of two avalanches this season in Uttarakhand has been considered unusual, but experts explain that it is a normal and natural phenomenon after an untimely snowfall.
Geologist Dr. Manish Mehta of the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology notes that rain and snowfall in April and May are unpredictable. However, avalanches become common after a snowfall, especially when the weather has been warm before the snowfall, causing freshly fallen ice to slide downward at high speed.
Experts warn that the possibility of avalanche incidents cannot be ruled out, but it should not affect the state of the glaciers. The real concern is the large number of people arriving in the Himalayan region for pilgrimage, which can be dangerous from an avalanche perspective.
Thousands of pilgrims arrive at pilgrimage centres like Kedarnath and Badrinath every day, increasing the risk in avalanche-prone areas.
Heavy snowfall ahead of the opening of the kapat has raised questions about the safety of the roads. Dr. Sati explains that the way the Kedarnath road was cut open by cutting through the snow is more dangerous than the avalanche itself.
The snow has been cut at 90 degrees to open the pass, which can cause many tons of snow to fall at any time, putting people passing through at risk.
Impact of unseasonal rainfall
Recent heavy rains caused by the Western Disturbance have increased the risk of landslides in the mountainous states. The collapse of a large part of the mountain near Helang on the Badrinath road on May 4, 2023 is of great concern, especially as the road widening work from Helang to Vishnuprayag via Joshimath is currently underway as part of the government’s Chardham project, known as the All Weather Road.
Unseasonal rainfall and snowfall have been identified as the main reasons for landslides and avalanches on the Kedarnath and Badrinath routes. In April and early May, rainfall in Rudraprayag and Chamoli districts was significantly higher than normal.
The Dehradun center of the India Meteorological Department issued an alert forecasting light to moderate rain, thunderstorms and snowfall above 3,200 meters in Uttarakhand for the next four days. In the past 24 hours, the state received 9.9mm of rain, with Uttarkashi, Rudraprayag and Chamoli, where the Char Dham shrines are located, receiving 8.8mm, 2.9mm and 4.9mm respectively.
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