2022 GS3 Answer

Q. Explain the mechanism and occurrence of cloudburst in the context of the Indian subcontinent. Discuss two recent examples.

Question from UPSC Mains 2022 GS3 Paper

Model Answer: 

Mechanism of Cloudburst

A cloudburst is a sudden, intense rainfall that can lead to flash floods, especially in areas with limited water absorption capacity. The phenomenon is common during the monsoon season in the Indian subcontinent. The mechanism behind a cloudburst can be broken down into several factors:

Formation of clouds: Warm, moist air rises and cools, causing water vapor to condense into water droplets, leading to cloud formation.

Cloud development: As warm air continues to rise, it feeds the growing cloud with more moisture, and the cloud expands in size. During monsoon season, the Indian subcontinent experiences a large influx of moist air from the Indian Ocean, which contributes to the development of massive cloud systems.

Cloud instability: When a cloud becomes unstable due to excessive moisture content or rapid vertical growth, it can lead to intense rainfall. Factors like high humidity, strong convection currents, and orographic uplift over mountainous regions can trigger this instability.

Cloudburst: In some cases, the unstable cloud system can release a large amount of water in a very short period, leading to a cloudburst. Cloudbursts are usually localized and occur in small areas.

Occurrence of Cloudburst in the Indian Subcontinent

The Indian subcontinent experiences cloudbursts due to its unique geography and climate. The Himalayan mountain range acts as a barrier, trapping the moisture-laden monsoon winds, leading to orographic uplift and heavy precipitation. Cloudbursts are more common in the mountainous regions of North India, particularly in Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, and Jammu and Kashmir.

Example 1: Uttarakhand Cloudburst (2013)

In June 2013, the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand experienced one of the most devastating cloudbursts in its history. It resulted in a series of landslides, flash floods, and massive destruction. Thousands of people lost their lives, while many others were left stranded or homeless. The cloudburst occurred due to the combination of high humidity, strong convection currents, and orographic uplift caused by the Himalayas. This event is also referred to as the ‘Himalayan Tsunami’.

Example 2: Leh Cloudburst (2010)

In August 2010, the Leh region in the Indian-administered territory of Ladakh witnessed a catastrophic cloudburst that led to flash floods and widespread damage. The event resulted in the deaths of over 200 people and the displacement of thousands more. The city of Leh, which lies in the rain shadow of the Himalayas, experienced an unprecedented amount of rainfall in a short period. The cloudburst’s impact was exacerbated by the region’s arid climate and the limited water absorption capacity of the soil.

In conclusion, cloudbursts are extreme weather events that pose significant risks to the Indian subcontinent, particularly during the monsoon season. Rapid urbanization and deforestation have made the region more vulnerable to the impacts of such events. Better understanding of the mechanism and improved early warning systems are essential for mitigating the devastating consequences of cloudbursts.

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