In gloomy times of the Covid pandemic, any good news is welcome. For Himachal Pradesh, it has come in the form of early snowfall, spreading cheer among residents and officials. The state's remote Baralacha and Shinkula regions received snowfall in the first week of July—a month earlier than usual. With the weather bureau predicting a normal monsoon, which should keep temperatures low, more spells of snowfall can be expected in the higher reaches in the weeks to come.

Sixty per cent of Himachal Pradesh receives snowfall, which is critical not only for the state's ecology but its economy as well. Weather experts say the early snowfall this year could well be owing to the lockdown-induced drop in vehicular traffic and industrial activity in the foothills, which may have brought pollution levels down.

The impact of the 90-day lockdown in the state is also visible in other ways, such as cleaner rivers and lakes. This year, the state is witnessing heavy rainfall in the major tourist hubs, such as Kullu-Manali, Chamba-Dalhousie and Shimla-Rampur, as well as the remote tribal districts of Lahaul and Spiti. This will help recharge the natural water sources even as the early snowfall acts as a buffer water source in the upper reaches.

Apart from attracting tourists and recharging the water resources, good spells of snow aid the growth of crops such as apple, cherry, kiwi and apricots, along with the state's local variants of potato and other vegetables. To capitalise on the 'early and longer' spell of snow, the Jairam Thakur government may have to work with horticulturists and farmers to alter the cropping pattern a bit. For example, the apple crops (Himachal variants) require temperatures between 16 to 24 degrees Celsius in October, when flowering starts.

The last time the state witnessed early snowfall was in 2014. Weather experts have blamed the slide in snowfall over the years on rising pollution and climate change. The latest report of the Centre on Climate Change at the Himachal Pradesh Council for Science, Technology and Environment (HIMCOSTE) says the total area under snow cover in the state has reduced by 0.72 per cent, from 20,210 sq. km between October 2018 and May 2019 to 20,064 sq. km for the same period in 2019-2020. A good spell of snow this winter could reverse the trend.

(Read more here)