A long dry spell sent the mercury soaring in Jammu and Kashmir's summer capital of Srinagar, which recorded its hottest-ever March this year, and raised the spectre of drought-like conditions.
Authorities have advised farmers in many areas not to cultivate paddy – a water-intensive crop – and the agricultural department is preparing a contingency plan to deal with any eventuality.
"The Kashmir Valley has been witnessing above-normal maximum temperatures. Especially in the month of March, the day temperatures were eight to 11 notches above the normal," an official of the Meteorological Department told PTI here.
"Though there has been some relief in this month, the maximum temperature is still above the normal for this part of the year."
He said the valley recorded the hottest ever month of March this year and the maximum temperature broke the nearly five decade-old record.
"On the last day of March this year, Srinagar recorded a maximum of 28.3 degrees Celsius, which was 10.7 degrees above the normal. It was the all time high recorded by the capital city in its recorded history. The last record – the highest day temperature in Srinagar in the month of March – was 27.3 degrees Celsius on 27 March 1971," the official said.
He said while the day temperature across Kashmir was still above normal, some rainfall earlier this month had an effect on the weather.
Deputy director, metrological centre, Srinagar, Mukhtar Ahmad said Kashmir has been witnessing a mainly dry spell since January and the Valley may continue to experience above normal maximum temperatures. "There was not much rainfall or snow in January or even in February. Only about 20 per cent of rainfall has been there.
He said March was also dry. "The temperature has shot up because of the prolonged dry spell."
The situation was worrisome and alarming as less rainfall would impact "almost everything", even causing forest fires as was recently seen, Ahmad said.
"This is an alarming situation. But, we have seen that there have been dry spells in some years. We had a dry winter in 2014, then we had much rains in 2015. So, this cycle is there every three-four years."
He said incidents of forest fires are "definitely linked" with dry spells. "We had witnessed fire in Shalimar forest area even in December (last year). This is a worrisome situation. Had there been good rainfall, we would not have been experiencing this kind of situation," he said.
The deputy director at the MeT Office said the maximum temperature may shoot up this month as well and the dry spell may affect agriculture and horticulture sector.
"We can have temperature shoot up to 30 (degrees Celsius) in April. Agriculture and horticulture will suffer. Fruit ripening may advance by a month or so. It will be early. Fruit production will be impacted. Their quality may be affected as well. There will be effect on paddy and other such crops," he said.
According to the IMD, Jammu and Kashmir is in the category of large rain-deficient state for the period between March 1 and April 4 this year.
While the normal rainfall for this period for Jammu and Kashmir is 164.8 mm, the state has received just 64.4 mm — deficient by 61 per cent.
In January, Srinagar received 1.2 mm rainfall as compared to normal range of 53.9 mm. While in February, the summer capital received 44.7 mm rainfall compared to normal range of 81.99 mm, according to the data.
The deficient rainfall and snowfall prompted the state's Irrigation and Flood Control (IFC) department to issue advisories to farmers in various districts to opt for crops other than paddy as the Valley stares at the prospects of a drought.
In the last week of March, the IFC Department advised farmers in north Kashmir and central Kashmir's Ganderbal district not to cultivate paddy this season due to water scarcity. Instead, the department said, pulses and other cash crops, which use less water, be sown.
An official of the IFC department said paddy fields in the Valley are irrigated by channels which are mostly rain and snow-fed, but the water table is at very low this year.
"This year, there has been scant snowfall and rainfall so far and there is not much water in the water bodies in the Valley," he said.
The official said, while so far the advisories have been issued to districts of Baramulla, Kupwara and Ganderbal, if the dry weather prolongs, it could be issued in other areas of the Valley.
Based on these advisories, the agriculture department is preparing a contingency plan so that farmers are secured from facing economic losses, the officer said.
"IFC department has given an advisory that there will be a shortfall (of water for irrigation purposes). We have devised a contingency plan of what could be a suggestive measure so that farmers will not be put in economic distress because of losing crop.
"We have suggested them to go for maize, which is a deep-rooted crop and sucks the moisture from down below and also cultivate beans," Director Agriculture, Kashmir, Altaf Aijaz Andrabi said.
Andrabi said the department has made a recommendation to the government to procure seeds in case of any contingency.
"We have to be in a state of readiness," he said, adding they were running a campaign to make farmers aware about the situation.
He, however, said the department will not ask the farmers to immediately go for the alternatives.
"If there is good rainfall and water level increases in the rivers, the first phase of paddy cultivation (sowing seeds) can be done. If, at the time of filing of the fields (transplanting the crop), there is problem, we can immediately switch-over. So, we will not tell them to go for it immediately, we are very planned, in a systematic and professional way. We have directed our people to be in a state of preparedness though," he said.