Wednesday, August 27, 2014

STH storm watch (27Aug2014) : Low pressure forms in the Bay of Bengal

After a quiescent period stretching almost the entire month of Aug2014, when there was virtually no activity in the Bay of Bengal, IMetD is reporting the formation of a low pressure area in the " west central and adjoining north west Bay of Bengal off north Andhra Pradesh­ south Odisha "
We will post updates as necessary.

Praful Rao,
Dist Darjeeling

One day's rain (25/26Aug2014)

All rainfall figures quoted above are from IMetD except for Kalimpong and Darjeeling (which are from STH rain gauges)
In Kalimpong, the precipitation was heaviest in thundershowers between 1.00am to approx 2.15am on 26Aug2014.
As is evident from the rainfall data, the heaviest rainfall took place along the plains of the Dooars with the mountainous regions actually receiving much less rain as such no major landslides were reported.
For more on the rainfall read here.

Praful Rao
Dist Darjeeling

Friday, August 22, 2014

Heavy rain alert 22Aug2014 : more rain due

Excerpt from IMetD All India Weather Bulletin of Thursday (21Aug2014 - night) Meteorological Analysis (based on 1730 hours IST)
- The axis of monsoon trough at mean sea level continues to run close to the foothills
of Himalayas.
- The trough extends from Sub-Himalayan West Bengal and Sikkim to northeast Bay
of Bengal across Bangladesh between 2.1 and 4.5 km above mean sea level persists                           
All this, in short means, is that a band of low pressure is almost stationary over the Darjeeling - Sikkim Himalaya and is resulting in continuous moisture feed to this area - which means more heavy rain in this region. 
The clouding in the IR satellite imagery of 0500h IST is consistent with this and at 0630h (22Aug2014) it is raining  cats and dogs here in Kalimpong.

Praful Rao,
Dist Darjeeling

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Heavy rain alert : third week of Aug2014

Transcript (excerpt) of BBC weather bulletin of Monday, 18 Aug2014(23:57 UTC)
“The main focus of storms – north east India, northern parts of Bangladesh and eastern parts of Nepal.... The rainfall suppressed a little bit on Wed and Thursday but there are signs that we could see it (the rainfall) intensifying further and through the coming days, taking us into the week we could see as much as 90cm of fresh rain around this sort of region which will of course cause widespread flooding....”

Excerpt from IMetD All India Weather Bulletin (19Aug2014-midday)
Meteorological Analysis (based on 0830 hours IST)
· The axis of monsoon trough at mean sea level runs close to the foothills of Himalayas.
· The upper air cyclonic circulation over northern parts of West Bengal and Sikkim
and neighbourhood has become less marked. However, a trough extends from Sub­Himalayan West Bengal; Sikkim to south Chhattisgarh across Bihar extends upto 1.5 km above mean sea level.

Weather Warning during next 3 days (IMetD)
19 August (Day 1):
Heavy to very heavy rainfall would occur at isolated places over South Interior
Heavy rainfall would occur at isolated places over Assam; Meghalaya,
Arunachal Pradesh, Tamilnadu; Puducherry and Lakshadweep.
20 August (Day 2):
 Heavy rainfall would occur at isolated places over Sub Himalayan West Bengal; Sikkim, Assam;  Meghalaya,   Arunachal   Pradesh,  Tamilnadu;  Puducherry,  North  Interior  Karnataka,   South  Interior Karnataka and Lakshadweep.
21 August (Day 3):   Heavy to very heavy rainfall would occur at isolated places over Sub­ Himalayan West Bengal; Sikkim.
Slide 1 shows past 7days of rainfall in India from TRMM.
Slide 2 shows potential landslide sites also from TRMM.

For anyone interested, the normal rainfall for the whole of July in Sub-Himalayan West Bengal and Sikkim is around 61cm. If the forecast is correct, this region could receive one and half times that rain (ie 90cm) in the next couple of days. 
This should be a cause for concern to all of us in the region and the intent of this post is to make people aware and prepared - without causing panic.

Praful Rao,
Dist Darjeeling

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

STH activities (02Aug2014) : Mapping rainfall in the mountains - a STH/KKKS initiative

Recording rainfall statistics for use by researchers, the farming community and by those who work in hydrological disasters has long been one of the aims of STH and towards this end we procured and positioned automatic rainfall gauges in several places in Darjeeling district and Sikkim. Data from these instruments is regularly posted on our blog all through the monsoon months since 2011.
Unfortunately, some of these instruments have become defective and we decided to replace these with the sturdy Symon's type manual rainfall gauges which are a lot cheaper too. I put up the proposal to procure these instruments for use by the farming community to Mr Bishnu Chhetri, General Secretary of Kalimpong Krishak Kalyan Sangathan who readily agreed to the proposal.
On 02Aug2014, after a talk in the KKKS hall, Kalimpong, aimed at standardizing use and recording of rainfall at all stations, 10 manual rainfall gauges were handed over to members of Krishak Kalyan Sangathan at the following villages of Darjeeling district :-
1. Towday 2.Gitdabling 3. Pabringtar 4. Payung 5. Echay 6. Lama Hatta 7. Kolbung
8. Mangwa 9. Singail (Kurseong) 10. Pokhriabung
We hope to include data from these stations in our blog from Sep2014.
Further, many NGOs from this region have requested that we procure these gauges for them also and so in time to come we may have a comprehensive network of instruments to map the rainfall of this region.

Praful Rao,
Dist Darjeeling.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Rainfall data July 2014 and associated landslide activity.

Deficient rainfall in the Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalaya

As can be seen from the rainfall data of some stations of the region (slide -1) there was an overall deficiency in the amount of rainfall in the month of Jul2014. The monsoon rainfall normally peaks in July (see here) before starting to decline in Aug/Sep and withdrawing from the sub-continent in Oct.
However, in 2014 rainfall in Kalimpong was almost 40% deficient resulting in inability by farmers to plant the full paddy crop this year in some parts of Pudung village (Kalimpong). All other stations also show decline in rainfall in 2014 to varying degrees.
This is in keeping with the data obtained from IMD in slide -2 (see details here).

Landslide activity

  • No major landslides and no deaths due to landslides in Darjeeling or Sikkim in July2014.
  • Malin village in Maharastra, India - 151deaths due to landslide on 30Jul2014. 
  • Pangla, on Dharchula-Kailash Mansarovar yatra, in Pithoragarh district - 5 deaths on 27July2014

    Praful Rao,
    Dist Darjeeling

Monday, August 4, 2014

A village called Malin, in Pune Maharastra

From the TImes of India (01Aug2014)

Govt projects are to blame for Pune landslide tragedy: Experts
PUNE/ MUMBAI: Torrential rains may have triggered the landslide on Wednesday that buried Pune's Malin village, but experts say short-sighted government policy and shoddy implementation of its schemes are the major underlying factors for the tragedy.
Sahas Manch, an NGO working in the area, has blamed abject carelessness of government officials in measuring and levelling land for the Padkai scheme. Under this tribal employment project implemented under MNREGA, hill slopes are flattened and trees are cut down to develop cultivable plots. The NGO claimed that government officials did not survey the area thoroughly and allotted 25 plots on steep slopes.
Land was levelled by uprooting trees, which in turn loosened the soil, stone bunds were not built to contain erosion and nullahs were not cut into the soil to allow drainage. Such criminal errors caused the landslide, it alleged. On the other hand, massive deforestation for a windmill project along the hillside was equally responsible, said acclaimed ecologist Dr Madhav Gadgil.

The Malin Mud Avalanche Tragedy of 30 July 2014

- The time to ask right questions

The mud avalanche that ravaged the Malin village in the Pune district of the State of Maharashtra on the 30 July is hardly any different in its end effect from the rock avalanche tragedy which struck the village of Malpa in the State of Uttarakhand on 18 August 1998. Both obliterated the villages, located at the foot of their respective ecologically ruined, fragile mountain slopes, known to be unsafe. Of the comparable population of about 250 in the above two cases, 210 people were buried alive by the Malpa rock avalanche and the death toll in the case of Malin mud avalanche tragedy may not turn out to be significantly different. Rescue teams at Malpa battled to exhume those buried under the debris-cover as thick as 15 m and the National Disaster Response Force now has no easier task dealing with 7m thick muck at the foot of the Bhimashankar hill, fouled with bricks, thatch, gas cylinders, clothes and bicycle parts. The oft-repeated standard and stale reason put forward to explain the two ghastly events, is the rainfall preceding the events. At Malpa, the avalanche had struck in the wee hours of the 18 August 1998. On the previous day at 2130 hrs, rainfall resumed and by about 00: 37 hours, Malpa was completely wiped out of the map of Uttarakhand. At Malin, the tragedy occurred in the early hours of 30th July 2014 around 07:30 am, explained in terms of the rainfall of 108mm on the previous day. These are only half-truths as rainfall has been a seasonal visitor for centuries on end. In both the cases, the blame also fell on factors such as ecological fragility of slopes, deforestation, improper landuse, quarrying. At Malin, the government has, as usual, assured the victims of all possible assistance, payments to compensate for every life lost with assurance of rehabilitation of victims. Such declarations are familiar to our ears. In the next few months, it is not unlikely that Malin will be forgotten the same way as we have forgotten Malpa, until we get another jolt.
The end of every tragedy is usually the beginning of the season of meetings, conferences, seminars and workshops. The ensuing debates on whether the disaster was natural or man-made and whether it could have been prevented naturally fade after generating a lot of heat but very little light. The post-mortem studies are more sketchy than scientific and these too end up with piles of reports and papers, which eventually gather dust on the shelf.
It is high time we dare ask the right questions. National Disaster Management Act of 2005 gave a call for a paradigm shift from the relief-centred response to disaster prevention and mitigation and yet no one speak a word of prevention , leaving everything to the heroic deeds of the National Disaster Response Force. The various
guidelines issued by the National Disaster Management Authority aim at zero tolerance for non-engineered constructions and for flouting of techno-legal regime and yet no one raises even a little finger to investigate disasters , affix accountability , learn lessons and make someone accountable to ensure that the same mistakes are not repeated. The country has designated Geological Survey of India as the nodal agency for landslides but that declaration made years ago, and ratified yet again, remains a secret to most of the landslide victims, and our country men at large.
We will never be able to avert future disasters unless the mandated institutions measure up to their responsibilities in a coordinated fashion with eyes fixed on clock and compass. The foremost responsibility is to usher the culture of safety in a way the progress is seen on the ground. Antoine de Saint ExupĂ©ry, a French Writer sums it up beautifully when he says that “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up men to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
The other questions that must be asked are why the tragedy could not have been avoided, and why the response was not quicker? The Malpa tragedy occurred at 00:37 am on the 19 August 2014. The thunderous sound of the rock avalanche was heard by many around 00:25 am. Five minutes later, sky witnessed fireworks due to colliding boulders. Closely on the heels of this came the fury of a dust storm. We had no preparedness to capture these signals and the first message of the tragedy could be radioed from the ITBP only at 05:25 am, and the real help came hours later. Why did we not learn from this?
Like at Malpa, the residents of the neighbouring Asane village had sensed the incoming mud avalanche at Milan by the loud noise heard at about 03:00 am. There were evidences of howling wind as well, similar to the experience at Malpa. There being no early warning system in place, the village Malin too did not receive attention until a bus driver encountered the devastated landscape at 07:30 am, and the Manchar city authorities got the news thereafter. National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) personnel could also reach the site only by the afternoon. District collector reportedly came to know about the incident at 9am. We lost hours at a time we were short of seconds!
Why no attempts were made to prevent abuse of land, educate the people on the perceived threat, do’s and don’ts, restore ecological stability to the area and disallow non-engineered dressing of the slopes for agriculture. Was it difficult for the government to keep a check on felling of trees and stone quarrying in the area , especially when landslides have been a common occurrence in this part of the district, and only last year, the neighbouring village of Kolthawadi was hit by a landslide.
Whenever landslide disasters strike, we rush to lean on fixed ideas in our minds. It has almost become ritualistic to name rainfall to explain away cataclysmic floods and devastating landslide events, without even attempting to understand the slope
dynamics. We can understand landslides only by systematic geotechnical, geomorphologic, hydro-geological and seismic characterization of slopes, and study of the environmental impact of urbanization. The question to ask is-why then scientific investigations in our landslide prone areas are exceptions rather than a rule? The earlier we insist on prevention by taking recourse to scientific investigations, the better.

Prof RK Bhandari
Mobile: +919810345123

Prof RK Bhandari is a distinguished alumnus from IIT Mumbai, a Fellow of Indian National Academy of Engineering  and a recipient of the coveted Varne’s Medal for Excellence in Research and Practice of Landslides.
Read his article on Uttarakhand disaster here


Praful Rao,
Dist Darjeeling

Sunday, August 3, 2014

STH Stormwatch (03Aug2014) : Another low pressure area in the Bay of Bengal

Excerpt from  IMD's All India Weather Bulletin (Sunday 03Aug2014)
"A low pressure area has formed over north Bay of Bengal and neighbourhood. Associated upper air cyclonic circulation extends upto 7.6 km above mean sea level. It would become well marked low pressure area during next 24 hours"

Updates will be posted as required.

Update on 04Aug2014
"The well marked low pressure area over Gangetic West Bengal and neighbourhood concentrated into a Depression and lay centered at 0830 hours IST of today the 04th August 2014 over Gangetic West Bengal and is close to Midnapur. It would move west­northwesterly direction during next 24 hours and weaken gradually."

Praful Rao,
Dist Darjeeling.