At least 16 killed, 40 missing in the Amarnath ‘Cloudburst’; What is the phenomenon and how does it occur, explained

According to official reports, at least 16 people were killed and more than 40 are reported missing when a cloudburst struck the area near the holy shrine of Amarnath in Jammu & Kashmir on July 9. As per official reports, the injured were taken to the nearby base hospitals: Upper Holy Cave, Lower Holy Cave, Panjtarni, and other nearby facilities. 

An official said the flash floods occurred around 5.30 p.m on July 9 and washed away scores of tents. “At least 16 people are feared dead. The bodies are being retrieved and the missing being located,” a senior official said. The exact location of cloudburst and flash floods is Kali Mata Y Junction, located at the lower Amarnath cave towards the Baltal base camp. The yatra has been stopped for the time being.

What is Cloudburst?

Cloudburst is the strongest, very heavy rainfall in an area in a very short period of time within a smaller geographical area. Most so-called cloudbursts occur in connection with thunderstorms. The entire area where the cloudburst occurs will be damaged by floods and landslides. Meteorologists say the rain from a cloudburst is usually of the shower type with a fall rate equal to or greater than 100 mm (4.94 inches) per hour.

How does the Cloudburst?

A cloudburst is basically a rainstorm and occurs mostly in the desert and mountainous regions. A cloudburst occurs when moisture-carrying air moves up hilly terrain, forming a vertical column of clouds known as ‘cumulonimbus’ clouds. Such clouds usually cause rain, thunder, and lightning. This upward motion of the clouds is known as an ‘orographic lift’.

These unstable clouds cause an intense rainstorm over a small area after becoming heavy enough and locked in the ridges and valleys between the hills.  During the monsoon season, when there is heavy rain during the monsoon season, such clouds sometimes can be seen in Kerala state also.

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The energy necessary for the cloudburst comes from the upward motion of the air. Cloudbursts mostly occur at elevations between 1,000-2,500 meters above sea level. The moisture is usually provided by a low-pressure system over the Gangetic plains associated with low-level winds flowing in from the east. The ‘cumulonimbus’ clouds before going downwards into the earth become ice particles but as it approaches the Earth’s surface, the temperature rises and the ice particles turn into water droplets. Then it falls to the ground as torrential rainfall.