Timely snowfall in the high hills of Himachal Pradesh has once again rekindled hopes of a good spell of snowfall in Shimla after two years of warm winter.
The town, known for the imperial grandeur of buildings that were once institutions of power when it was the summer capital of British India, remained devoid of any prominent snow cover in the past two years.
Manmohan Singh, director of the meteorological office here, told IANS: ‘It’s too early to predict whether Shimla would experience good snowfall this winter or not. But moderate snowfall in high hills, including Manali, Oct 22 indicated good snowfall in Shimla too.’
The plentiful monsoon in the state this season has increased the moisture in the air. ‘This year the rainfall was 16 percent more than the normal in the state, compared to a 36 percent deficit last year. The higher moisture content often leads to good chances of snow,’ he said.
Besides one mild spell of snow (8.2 cm) Jan 13, 2010, there was no snow at all in Shimla last winter.
However, Shimla’s nearby tourist destinations like Kufri and Narkanda had good spells of snowfall.
According to the meteorological office, Shimla witnessed relatively warmer days in January this year.
‘Shimla recorded an average high of 15.4 degrees Celsius in January, which was 3.8 degrees above the average for this time of the year. This was the highest maximum temperature of the town in the past six years,’ he said.
Contrary to this, the town experienced 62 cm of snow Feb 12, 2007, which was the highest snowfall on a single day in the past 99 years. Other highs were 55.9 cm (Feb 18, 1978) and 54 cm (Feb 2, 2002).
However, the town saw just two mild spells of snowfall in 2009 and those flakes too melted within few hours.
Environmentalists blame deforestation and rising pollution for change in the hill town’s climatic conditions.
Sanjay Verma, project officer with the state department of environment, science and technology, said the impact of excessive construction and deforestation is visible.
‘The once lush green hills have been converted into a concrete jungle. This is also one of the reasons for change in climatic conditions,’ he added.
Vivek Mohan, a Mumbai-based documentary maker, said: ‘Shimla is slowly but surely moving out of the seasonal snowline. If such trend continues, the residents of the town would have to visit nearby hills to witness snow.’
Mohan, who spent his childhood tramping through snow-laden streets of Shimla, said earlier the residents used to store snow during winter in ditches in the Mount Jakhu hills, the highest peak of the town. This accumulated snow was later used for cooling purposes during peak summers.
‘Now, the snow ditches remain empty even during winter. Most of them have even vanished with the passage of time,’ said Mohan, who has made ‘For Whom the Jingle Bells Toll’, a 30-minute documentary on climate change based in Shimla during Christmas. It is a story with a message: Will there be a white Christmas or not?
Alas, snowfall on Christmas eve has been eluding the locals and tourists for the past 19 years. It was in 1991 that the town last witnessed 49 cm of snowfall on Christmas eve.
‘Earlier, the residents used to migrate to lower hills with the onset of winter. Now, people have stopped migrating. This shows the winters are not as harsh as these used to be till the early ’90s,’ said Viraj Singh Manta, an octogenarian settled in Shimla for the past 40 years.