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30 December 2010

Smog, Cold Air Damming. Welcome to India

This image is the kind many of us in the mid-latitudes are used to seeing, a fisherman exploring a frozen lake in winter- then it dawns on you. This is picture is in India. As of right now, most water ways, lakes, streams and rivers, are frozen in Kashmir. Cold air damming, the likes of which the northeastern United States is accustomed to, has descended on Punjab. Smog is hampering flights trying to land in Delhi causing problems that are more common in Los Angeles. The homeless are warming their hands around scrap fires, not in Copenhagen, but in Allahabad.

Currently it is bitterly cold across northern India. As the people of New York and London and many other mid-latitude cities are still digging out from underneath their blizzards, below freezing temperatures have surged out of the Himalayas and into the Gangetic plain of northern India. It's not that snow is uncommon in India. The Himalayas, after all, are snow capped year round, but when that cold air moves south of the highland 'hill states' of India is when things start to get dangerous. It's more dangerous still when temperatures in the lowlands parts of the hill states struggle to get past the freezing mark.

Temperatures have plunged as far as -6 to -7oC (19 - 21oF) across Jammu and Kashmir. Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh have both touched freezing in places, and will do so again during the next week. Temperatures have dropped far enough in Delhi to squeeze some unseasonable drizzle out of the atmosphere, despite the dry season being in full swing.

Now for the problems. At least 40 people are dead. In country where instead of being one in a million, you are one in a billion, that is a relatively small number, however in rural India communications and reporting of deaths (with blame properly assigned) is not the best. Disease brought on by the cold temperatures, hypothermia and other hardships will weaken families and make staying warm more difficult. Livestock are also not immune, and their deaths will adversely affect the human population. In other words the death toll is likely higher than that. This part of the world isn't accustomed to these temperatures, and the people do not have the fiscal means to protect themselves. Further, some people recognize that the cold is uncomfortable, but do not always realize that it is life-threateningly dangerous, and do not always take proper precautions.

The cold isn't moving anywhere fast. It is expected to stay across India for the next week, at least.

*Thanks to the AP for the pictures.

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