How the Cloud Crumbles

Apocalypse, Back to Earth, Water

Monsoon arrives in the Himalayas after a long-winding journey across the Bay of Bengal, sweeping over the Ganga Delta, upwards to paint the mountain slopes green. But sometimes it comes loaded with pregnant clouds too, which explode in extremely inconvenient places such as expensive hydropower project sites and busy tourist roads. Cloudbursts.

A cloudburst is a sudden, torrential rain in a limited geographical area that lasts for a very short time (read 100mm or more or rain per hour). Obviously, the consequence is often flash floods, and a brief look at the world’s record cloudbursts shows that India has bagged five of the worst.

The last 10 years have seen more than a few bridges upturned and important construction work plans disrupted in India. The Ladakh cloudburst in 2010, an anomaly in the high-altitude mountains that come under rain-shadow area, devastated locals living in mud houses, killing 179.

Cloudbursts are supposed to be rare, but this past month has seen all three North Indian mountain states struck speechless (and their populations homeless) by successive cloudbursts at locations uncomfortably close to hydropower dams and tunnel sites. Environmental tragedy? Apparently not. Although 26 people died here under August's cloudbursts, soggy Himachal Pradesh has just been declared the best Indian destination for adventure tourism.

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