How Much Snow Can We Expect In Winter 2018 On Our Treks?

Last week, I was doing some research on snowfall in India. I wanted to understand when and how much snow we could expect on our treks this year.

I spoke to Akshay Deoras, a meteorologist, who has been a forecaster for the past 9 years. He is also a researcher and a public speaker, currently pursuing his doctoral study at the Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, UK.

In a long interview we spoke about winter and snow in India. He was a treasure trove of information.

What he told me surprised me.

Did you know that there is no official recording of snowfall in India?

“There’s no detailed and publicly available data for snowfall in India,” says Akshay Deoras. “Monsoon is considered the most important season in India. So the weather patterns in our country usually revolve around monsoon. What we consider summer (March-May) is officially pre-monsoon, and early winter (Oct-Dec) is officially post-monsoon. Only January and February are considered winter, but there’s hardly any data on winter snow,” he says.

“So if you ask me to do a comparison about snowfall over the past 15 years in India, it’s almost impossible. We won’t be able to tell if the snow has increased or decreased. Which is why it’s so hard to even predict snowfall,” he adds.

About winter in India and its origin

“Winter in India is driven by the Western Disturbances (WDs). A WD is a weather system that originates outside the tropics, mainly around the Mediterranean Sea, Caspian Sea and the Black Sea region.

“As it’s a region of low pressure, it picks up moisture while coming to India (such as from the Arabian Sea) and this results in cloud cover, rainfall and even snowfall in India.

“It usually hits Jammu and Kashmir first, causes heavy precipitation there which is followed by precipitation in other parts of North India. Sometimes in spring, effects of Western Disturbances reach central India where severe weather outbreaks such as hailstorms occur” says Akshay.

These Western Disturbances are carried by the jet streams (strong air currents) that are present in the Earth’s atmosphere. The jet streams usually travel from West to East (which is why they are also called Westerlies). This explains why the WDs come in from the European region to India.

A preview of a poster made by Akshay and team to Understand Winter Precipitation In North Western India. Click here to see the full version of the poster. You’ll find more information on http://www.akshaydeoras.com

Interestingly, the Western Disturbances occur not only in winter, but all year along. However, their frequencies differ.

Indiahikes founder, Arjun Majumdar, adds, “We usually see anywhere between 4-6 Western Disturbances during one winter. And we have been observing this pattern for many years,” he says.

Arjun’s statement is further clarified by a research paper by Prof AP Dimri of JNU, published on ResearchGate. It clarifies that about four to six WDs occur during winter months from November to March. It adds that the annual frequency of snowstorms is directly related to the frequency of WDs.

“To make it simple, more WDs means more precipitation, which is the case in winter” says Akshay.

So it’s not wrong to conclude that the Western Disturbances and the Indian winter are almost synonymous with each other.

About snowfall we’re currently seeing on our treks

I’m not sure if you know, it has been snowing quite a bit on our treks already. At Rupin Pass, Phulara Ridge, Buran Ghati… It seems quite unseasonal.

I asked him if this meant that winter had come in early.

“In case of snowfall events around September end, it’s likely to have been caused by moisture built up over the Bay of Bengal. Because of lower temperatures at high altitudes, it comes down as snow instead of rain,” he says.

“But currently, the monsoon has withdrawn and the climate pattern is getting to winter (i.e driven by WDs),” he adds.

So when does winter actually begin in India?

Akshay is of the belief that winter begins in November in India, even though “officially” winter is considered only in January and February.

This struck a chord with us, because even at Indiahikes we consider November and the first half of December early winter.

Our co-founder, Sandhya UC, says, “We start experiencing extremely cold winds in the mountains right from November. There’s a layer of frost every morning. This usually melts away within an hour. But post sundown, it gets as cold as winter, minus the snow. This is why we ask all our trekkers to carry at least 5 warm layers in November and early December.”

To this Akshay Deoras has a point to add.

“Many people think the WD brings only rain and snow to India. But it also brings along with it very cold winds that leads to a sharp fall in the minimum temperatures. It is actually the only source of winter precipitation in North India” he says.

Coming to the big question, how much snow can we expect this year on our treks?

To this, Akshay has a response, but with a disclaimer.

“From this year’s climate pattern, it seems that the overall winter in India will be warmer and drier than normal. We see that an El Niño is taking shape in the Pacific Ocean. It’s always a big contributor in changing the pattern of WDs and thus the winter over India,” says Akshay.

(El Niño, part of the El Niño Southern Oscillation, is a climate phenomenon marked by higher than normal sea surface temperatures across central and eastern parts of equatorial Pacific Ocean. Such conditions impact the weather in many parts of the world including warmer winter and a drier summer monsoon in India.)

But he adds, “Our country’s models are not equipped to give us an accurate forecast of rain and snow.” Summer, on the other hand, he says, is easier to forecast.

“Think about a VGA camera and an iPhone camera. The weather and climate models belonging to our country (and some other global organisations) can only look at rain and snow in the Himalayas like a VGA camera can. Since the weather varies very rapidly in the hills, we need higher resolution products which are as crisp as the iPhone pictures!” he says.

Add to this the lack of understanding of how the Himalayan mountain range itself affects weather patterns. “All these make it really hard to predict snowfall in the Himalayas. It’s best to go by ground reports — by what people in the mountain are seeing.”

From what I see in the mountains, there’s already some snow on our treks. Notice that it is just a light dusting of snow. This is not snow that will last long.  It could be the first of the Western Disturbances making their presence felt.

Some pictures from the past week:

The Phulara Ridge Trek after a light snowfall. Picture by Indiahikes trekker Atish
The Litham campsite on the Buran Ghati trek. Picture by Indiahikes Trek Leader Vignesh
The Goechala trail last week. Picture by Indiahikes Trek Leader Bhupender

If you want to trek in snow

Then head to the mountains during the end of December. We have seen that the holiday season, the last week of December is when the real winter snow comes in.

After that, January and February make for fantastic peak winter treks.

Here is a link to the best winter treks:

Top 4 Winter Treks In The Indian Himalayas (December, January, & February)

Over the past few years we have seen that we can always bank on these three months to see snow! There might be one off circumstances, without snow, but even if that happens, the mountains never disappoint. 🙂

Make sure you share this article with other trekkers. Drop in comments if you have questions!

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Swathi Chatrapathy

Swathi Chatrapathy

Swathi Chatrapathy is the Chief Editor at Indiahikes. She heads the content team and runs a video series called Trek With Swathi. Before joining Indiahikes, she worked as a reporter and sub-editor at Deccan Chronicle. She holds a Masters in Digital Journalism and continues to contribute to publications such as Deccan Herald. Trekking, to her, is a sport that liberates that mind like nothing else can. Through her work at Indiahikes, she hopes to let more people experience this sense of liberation, by spreading information about trekking and by instilling the right spirit of trekking in them.Read Swathi's other articles. Watch Swathi's video series here.

12 thoughts on “How Much Snow Can We Expect In Winter 2018 On Our Treks?

  1. Dates – Jan20-Jan25
    Treks Considered – Dayara, Brahmtal, Kedarkantha

    Please suggest one based on the amount of snow, reachability, and most importantly CROWD.

    Thanks in advance

    1. Hi Ishan, these are all at a similar altitude in almost the same region. So the amount of snow on the treks will be similar. Their accessibility is similar too. So if you want to avoid crowd, you choose Dayara Bugyal. It’s a rarely trod-upon trail and is a stunning trek!

  2. Hi Swathi,
    Great article.
    We are Planning a trek to Kedarkantha this April (7th to 12th). This is going to be the first trek for my son who is 10 and my Nephew who is 12. What do you suggest to make it a great one and to have them wanting for more? I’ve trekked ABC and Pangarchula with IH already.
    Thanks.

    1. What a wonderful time to take children trekking! 🙂 But honestly, I’d suggest the Dayara Bugyal or Brahmatal treks instead of Kedarkantha. KK is rather crowded (if we are taking the Juda Ka Talab route). Dayara has enough and more to offer and there are fewer people too. So consider these treks!

      To have a good trek, just mentally prepare them for how they will have to live in a camp. Build up some excitement. And make sure you get warm layers their size! I think the trek will do the rest to get them hooked! 🙂

  3. Dear Swathi,

    I along with my hubby and daughter who is 11 years have booked for KK trek for the 24th Dec slot. My BMI is quite high as against the requirement but I have been practising regular fitness as I am very eager and looking forward for this trek. I am mentally preapred and have tried couple of local treks in my city While I cannot suddendly reduce my BMI can you suggest what pre preparation I need to work on to ensure i can be successful during my trek. Will appreciate your valuable inputs.

    1. Hi Sumathi, I’m glad you’re taking fitness seriously. I understand that you will not be able to reduce your BMI, but do continue to work on your fitness. Try and cover 5 km everyday, at least 5 times a week. Whether brisk walking or jogging. Try and cover this distance in around 40-45 minutes. Do this consistently till the beginning of your trek. It will help you immensely!

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