Fog And Poor Visibility: India’s Winter Battle

Dense Fog Engulfs North India

low visibility in dense fog

A popular media source reported on December 8, 2016 that the Indian Railways had announced delay in running of 100 trains across the country. Eleven of the trains had to be cancelled and 41 were rescheduled. Can you imagine what the hundreds of thousands of passengers who travel by train each day must be going through? Add to this the massive disruption in schedules of flights in the national capital and in other parts of the country. Well, say hello to winters! Each year north India wages what can only be called a war against dense fogs and poor visibility through the winter months resulting in disruption of travel and business plans.

Why’s North India Foggy in Winters?

Northern India typically faces low temperatures between 5 degrees and 15 degrees Celsius during the month of December. This is most likely to dip further in January but by no means are temperatures exceptionally cold. Many parts of the European continent and even Asia face temperatures far lower than North India but the fog and smog in northern India is far worse than that in most other parts of the world.  Let us take a look at the reasons the northern regions encounter this phenomenon each year.

Meteorologists believe that one of the important factors that cause the phenomenon of widespread fog in Delhi and other parts of the northern plan is the Western Disturbance. The Western Disturbance is a low-pressure system that affects areas north of the 20°N latitude. This means that Jammu and Kashmir and other Himalayan areas in the north are affected by a sudden change in pressure which causes the dry north westerly winds (of early winters) to change course. These winds become south-easterlies and carry back with them a significant precipitation causing much fog over the northern plains. Fog is also caused by the presence of the many rivers that criss-cross the northern belt.

The other part of India that is known for its low, dense, and persistent fog is the north east, particularly the Brahmaputra valley and hilly regions. These are densely forested hilly and mountainous regions. The fog formed in this region is due to a combination of high precipitation from the Himalayan hills and numerous rivers and creeks present here. The forests help in trapping the fog making it difficult to dissipate.

Factoring in the Pollution

While the natural causes of fog are something that we merely have to accept, let us take a look if we, the people, are doing anything to precipitate the poor visibility woes that the country is struggling to combat.

Last year, a news report in the Economic Times had referred to a 2007 study by R.K. Jenamani of the IMD (Indian Meteorological Department). Studying the correlation between fog and temperature in Delhi (between 1960 and 2005), the paper had concluded that an alarming rise in the city’s air pollution was an important cause for the increase in fog and for an added drop in winter temperatures. The report says that while natural phenomena are undoubtedly at play in fog formation over Delhi and nearby regions, pollutants such as particulate matter act as nuclei and around which the cloud condensation is much more pronounced. The presence of high aerosol quantities also increases the concentration of fog in the national capital.

Traditional agricultural practices such as burning of stubble in the neighbouring agricultural tracts only adds considerably to the poor visibility. Burning of wood and other material to keep the cold at bay increases the smog in the NCR too.

IGI Battles Winter Woes

Coming back to our winter travel woes, fog and low visibility during the winter months have become quite a routine affair. The Delhi International Airport Ltd authorities have taken this battle rather seriously. Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA) authorities have stated that it is prepared to tackle this seasonal challenge and its aircraft will be able to handle both take off and land in low visibility. The authorities have enabled three runways to gain Cat III B clearance. This means that planes can land even when visibility is as low as 50 metres and can take off when visibility is only about 25 metres. While the IGI claims to be prepared to combat disruption and cancellations, flights still continue to be delayed. Some eight international and five domestic flights faced delays on 7 December, 2016 due to adverse weather conditions in IGI and other airports. South India does not usually face much of foggy weather. However, flights in south India and other adjacent parts were also disrupted due to delayed arrival of flights from Delhi and other parts of the north.

A Long Road Ahead

One thing remains clear, though. While the advent of newer, more sophisticated technology may ease travel-related inconveniences during the winter months, the battle against smog is a much more complex one. It will require every last ounce of effort that we Indians can make and will test our commitment to keeping a healthy, pollution-free environment. There is much to be done in terms of spreading awareness and taking positive action. It is only when we make peace with nature and maintain the natural equilibrium that we can live in comfort and harmony.


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