What Causes a Cloudburst, Know The Reasons, Its Effect on Rains?

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Rain is a blessing from nature. It is dubbed the “romantic weather” as family members get together over fritters and hot coffee on a rainy day. Apart from that, it is also a boon for farmers as rain brings home prosperity and peace by adequate water supply to the crops. There is an old saying, however “too much of anything is bad”. Likewise, too much of rain can serve disastrous and is a curse for human and other creatures. Cloudburst is one such phenomenon that brings about massive floods leading to destruction to people, livestock, property etc. There are several facts regarding cloudburst which remain unknown and need to be explored.  

In this article, we will talk about the what is cloudburst, cloudburst causes and effects and find out if cloudburst is predictable. We will also discuss the cloudburst events in India and precautions that one should take to minimize the risk associated with it.

So, without any delay, let us start our reading journey!  

What is a Cloudburst? 

A cloudburst is a very heavy rainfall occurring over a short period of time. They are highly localised rains in a mountainous region that is accompanied by thunderstorms. Cloudburst are usually not an everyday phenomenon but they are becoming increasingly common due to the Global warming on earth. They occur for a short period but the intensity of the rainfall is so high, that it leads to great losses. The ideal conditions for a cloudburst are higher humidity, maximum cloud cover, reduced temperature and slow winds. 

How much of Rainfall is Exactly a Cloudburst?  

A cloudburst can be 25 mm of rainfall corresponding to 25,000 metric tons per square kilometre. As per the Indian Meteorological Department, cloudburst can be equal to or greater than 100 mm (3.9 inches/10cm) per hour spread over a geographical location of approximately 20 to 30 sq kms. In a few minutes, the rainfall may amount to 20 mm (0.79 inches) in a cloudburst. All cloudbursts are heavy rainfall but not all heavy rainfall are cloudbursts. If the intensity of the rain is in sync with the measurements provided above, it can be called a cloudburst. 

Causes of Cloudburst  

When warm air currents move up the slope of a mountain, it mingles with cooler air and the result is sudden condensation. This process is known as an orographic lift and the clouds so formed are called cumulonimbus or thunderheads. The cumulonimbus clouds are very dense that result in rapid rainfall because of the Langmuir precipitation process. The violent uprushes of air prevent the raindrops from reaching the ground. As a result, there is a larger accumulation of water droplets. Small droplets combine to form larger ones which pours down once the upward air currents are weakened. That is how cloudbursts occur.

Effects of Cloudburst 

Flash floods are a direct result of cloudbursts. The heavy rainfall in the mountainous areas get concentrated in valleys and gulleys. These floods are sudden and immensely destructive in nature. It is because of the higher intensity of rainfall that results in unpredictable flash floods and landslides. The effects of cloudburst in nature and human life are as follows:  

  1. Loss of human life: The flashfloods and landslides caused by cloudburst lead to loss of human life and tragedy. The cloudburst even result in mudflows. The past has been a proven fact that the amount of damage cloudbursts can bring is immense. Several people have lost their lives because of this unpredictable rainfall occurrences. Many have been reported missing and some others presumed dead. Even livestock gets washed away in intense flood.
  1. Loss of property and infrastructure: Flashfloods not only result in loss of lives but also damage to property and infrastructure. Valuable goods and items are destroyed by the immense propensity of the cloudbursts. Public infrastructures like bridges, roads, official buildings collapse under the flash floods. As a result, means of communication and commute are disrupted which gives rise to innumerable problems. Since public infrastructures are affected severely, people cannot go to schools or offices which hampers education and work respectively. Moreover, they are even stranded in their place of work or study and loses contact with their families.

Is Cloudburst Predictable? 

It is difficult to predict a cloudburst as they are abrupt downpours that occur in a specific area. Their occurrence can only be conjectured. Therefore, most of the times, they remain unpredictable. Since they are localised events, the instruments to record weather activities like cloud formation and precipitation needs to be spread over a large area. The fact that cloudburst are localised prevents one from predicting their future. 

There have been situations when weather scientists intervened in the right moment and informed the authorities of a possible cloudburst. This helped people stay prepared before the intense rainfall. For example, a weather scientist from Pashan, Pune may have been the first person to predict a cloudburst in his city. He alerted the authorities through SMSs about his cloudburst predictions. Despite creating awareness and taking preventive steps, 3 people died along with one young scientist. 

Rain gauges are used to measure rainfall including cloudbursts. In one such case, an automatic rain gauge registered a heavy rainfall of 63 mm (2.47 inches) in 3 mins at Porto Bello, Panama on November 1911. 

Cloudbursts in India 

Several cloudburst incidents have been reported in India. Cloudbursts are frequent in the hilly areas of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Jammu and Kashmir, Western Ghats etc. The monsoon clouds rises from the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea, enters India and moves northwards towards the Himalayas bringing about an average of 75 mm of rain per hour.  Generally, residents, tourists and pilgrims are heavily affected by the consequences of cloudburst. Let us read a few instances of major cloudburst occurrences in India: 

Cloudburst in Uttarakhand 

Cloudbursts led to the collapsing of the banks of the Chorabari lake and the flooding of the Mandakini river in 2013. The estimated toll of the Uttarakhand cloudburst was nearly 10,000 with more than 3000 people reported as missing. The worst hit was Kedarnath which received a heavy rainfall between 14 June-17 June 2013. 

Cloudburst in Telangana 

The cloudburst in Telangana resulted in the Great Musi flood of 1908. The rainfall was logged at 98.57 cm where 221 tanks and lakes were breached resulting from the cloudburst (The Hindu). On 27 September 1908, the rainfall was recorded at 153.2 mm. The Nizam of Hyderabad introduced flood mitigation measures like fortifying the Musi banks and building reservoirs upstream to contain the rainwater. 

Cloudburst in Mumbai 

26 July is a major day for Mumbai residents as on this very day in 2005, the area was affected by a deluge resulting from cloudbursts. The rainfall reached 944 mm of rain in 24 hours. More than 1000 people were dead. Many people were left stranded in the offices, schools, colleges and were not able to return to their homes. After a few days the situation was in control with the waters receding. 

Recent cloudburst in 2022 

The recent most case of cloudburst in India has been reported near the holy cave of Amarnath in Jammu and Kashmir (July , 2022). The incident has left 16 people dead and 40 victims are reported to be missing. The cloudburst started around 5:30 pm on 8 July, 2022. The national forces were deployed to carry out rescue operations and evacuate all pilgrims from the area. 

Do’s and Don’ts during a Cloudburst 

 Stay calm 

Maintain your cool and do not panic. Panic produces unnecessary stress which burdens you instead of solving the problem. Once you remain calm, you will be able to think clearly and take all the preventive measures to minimize the risk as much as possible. 

Stay indoors 

In a cloudburst situation, you cannot predict the outcome and the damage it can bring. So, it is wise to stay indoors unless absolutely necessary. Avoiding going out will keep you safe and prevent any possible mishap from happening. 

Take shelter 

If you are caught in a situation of cloudburst, do take shelter and avoid going under rain or flooded areas. Often electric poles pose a great danger as you might get electrocuted. So, it is better to take shelter in a dry area and stay away from electrical wires. Moreover, you can avoid getting drowned and save your life.  

An alternative to power supply 

It is wise to have an alternative power supply in areas that have witnessed cloudburst events. People residing in mountainous regions should keep a backup that will be of use during blackouts. Some alternatives can be a generator or a UPS. 

Stay updated with weather forecasts  

Watch out for latest news about weather conditions. Keep yourself updated with weather forecasts particularly if you belong to a region that witnesses flash floods or landslides. Take warnings seriously and avoid inviting danger. Also, take due note of alerts sent by weather stations. Create awareness by letting your friends and family know about cloudburst predictions and keep an emergency kit handy that will help you immensely.  

Final Thought

Cloudburst is one such phenomenon that has devastating consequences. The most problematic thing about a cloudburst is that it is unpredictable. There are rare cases where weather forecasts have rightly been able to predict such occurrences. Moreover, a great many lives are lost which is truly a tragic incident for most of us. The Mumbai, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand and Telangana cloudbursts are prime examples of the havoc that cloudbursts can play in our lives. If one cannot cancel the outcome of cloudbursts, they must at least try to avoid falling prey to dangerous circumstances.

Hopefully, this article has been able to provide the definition of cloudburst and relay the cloudburst causes and how does a cloudburst occur?

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