Fog, Frigidity, and Climate Change: Unravelling North India's Winter Quandary

The escalating prevalence of fog in Northern India is intimately entwined with the broader canvas of climate change.

4 min read
Hindi Female

Last week, Delhi shivered in the grasp of bone-chilling temperatures, marking the lowest winter minimum at 3.9 degrees Celsius. The city, veiled in dense fog, prompted a red alert for Delhi, Punjab, and Haryana, stirring concerns beyond the immediate impact on daily life. This meteorological event disrupted routines and spotlighted broader climate shifts affecting the region, demanding a closer examination of the factors involved and anticipating consequences for the environment, agriculture, and the community's overall well-being.

The recent forecast from the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) paints a stark picture for North India, indicating a prolonged spell of dense fog over the next four days. The severity of the cold wave and intense cold day conditions are expected to persist in Delhi and North India. Monday morning witnessed the national capital grappling with frigid temperatures, setting a new low for the season at 3.3 degrees Celsius, a significant four notches below the seasonal average. 


In an update, the weather bureau emphasised the likelihood of dense to very dense fog shrouding many parts of Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh, and Delhi in the third week of January 2024. Furthermore, some areas may experience these foggy conditions at night and in the morning, with dense fog persisting in specific locations for the subsequent days. Coupled with these challenging visibility conditions, the affected regions may also contend with cold to very cold weather.

Flight cancellations stemming from dense fog unveiled a landscape of unrest in transportation systems in India. As the thick mist shrouded airports, disrupting visibility and grounding flights, the consequences rippled through travel plans, causing frustration and uncertainty among passengers.

The seemingly tranquil veil of fog transformed into a disruptive force, highlighting the vulnerability of air travel in adverse weather conditions. The cancellations not only underscored the intricate challenges aviation authorities face in managing fog-induced disruptions but also exposed the fragility of modern travel infrastructure when confronted with the unpredictability of nature.

As North India grapples with these adverse weather patterns, it becomes imperative to delve into the implications of such climatic extremities on daily life, transportation, and overall public well-being. 


Fog in North India: Unravelling the Climate Change Tapestry 

The escalating prevalence of dense fog in North India is intimately entwined with the broader canvas of climate change, highlighting the repercussions of human activities on regional weather patterns. The intricate relationship between rising temperatures and increased atmospheric moisture content is a crucial driver behind the surge in foggy conditions.

As global temperatures soar due to human-induced factors such as greenhouse gas emissions, the warming air enhances the capacity to hold moisture. When juxtaposed with the colder winter air over North India, these augmented humidity levels create a conducive environment for dense fog formation.

The intricate interplay between anthropogenic climate change and the frequency and intensity of fog events underscores the nuanced ways human actions reverberate through regional weather phenomena.

The consequences of heightened fog extend beyond mere visibility challenges, impacting transportation, daily routines, and public health. As North India grapples with this escalating climatic manifestation, it underscores the imperative for collective efforts to mitigate climate change. Addressing the root causes, curbing emissions, and fostering sustainable practices are pivotal steps to mitigate the interwoven complexities of rising fog and the region's broader spectrum of climate change. 


Embracing Winter's Mystery: Unveiling Climate Transformations in North India 

The Himalayas, usually a winter haven for snowfall, present an unusual scarcity this season. The absence of significant Western disturbances left popular hill stations like Kashmir, Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand devoid of snow, disappointing both tourists and locals. This departure from the norm is partly attributed to the El Nino phenomenon, known for altering India's winter weather patterns.

Simultaneously, an anti-cyclonic circulation over the eastern regions has maintained dry conditions, obstructing easterly winds crucial for moisture levels. This combination resulted in warmer December temperatures but a notable drop in January's minimums. Cities like Sikar in Rajasthan reported a record low of 1.0°C, signalling a shift in winter dynamics.

Interestingly, it's not just nighttime temperatures contributing to the cold; daytime weather, affected by upper-level fog, restricts maximum temperatures to 8-14°C across various stations. Delhi, experiencing its coldest day on January 4th at 12.5°C, seven degrees below normal, underscores the daytime chill. The winter anomaly extends beyond North India, touching Mumbai's lowest temperatures. Srinagar recorded a frigid -5.6°C, highlighting the broader implications of climate change on weather patterns. 

The forecast suggests a damp start for southern, western, and northern India, hinting at moderate to heavy rains due to the interplay of easterlies and a weak western disturbance. However, challenges persist, with the delayed withdrawal of the northeast monsoon and uneven precipitation posing issues for agriculture. 

As the week unfolds, a confluence zone near south Rajasthan may bring light rains to Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Madhya Pradesh, coupled with dense fog in several states, further contributing to the ongoing cold wave. Anticipate a 2–3°C drop in minimum temperatures, heightening the risk of cold waves around festivals like Lohri and Makar Sankranti. 

North India's current weather patterns prompt crucial reflections on climate change impacting traditional winter norms. The Himalayas' snow scarcity, temperature anomalies, and delayed precipitation underscore a shifting climate landscape. Collective efforts from policymakers, scientists, and the public are imperative to comprehend, mitigate, and adapt to these evolving climate challenges for a sustainable and resilient future. 


Strategies for Adapting to Persistent Weather Challenges in North India 

Adapting to the challenges posed by persistent dense fog conditions in North India necessitates a multifaceted approach. 

Firstly, enhancing transportation infrastructure resilience is imperative. Investments in advanced navigation systems, runway lighting, and state-of-the-art fog dispersal technologies can mitigate airport disruptions, ensuring safer takeoffs and landings.

Secondly, implementing comprehensive weather forecasting systems and early warning mechanisms can empower aviation authorities and the public to make informed decisions, minimising the impact of fog-related disruptions. 

Thirdly, fostering public awareness campaigns about the potential consequences of dense fog on travel schedules and encouraging proactive planning can empower passengers to navigate these conditions more effectively.  

Lastly, collaboration between meteorological agencies, aviation authorities, and local governments is essential to formulate and execute comprehensive strategies addressing the region's specific challenges of recurrent dense fog. 

(Anjal Prakash is a Clinical Associate Professor [Research] at Bharti Institute of Public Policy, Indian School of Business [ISB]. He teaches sustainability at ISB and contributes to IPCC reports. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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Topics:  Climate Change   Fog   Members Only 

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