Warmer, drier winters in Nepal

Even in a warmer than usual decade, this year's Himalayan winter has been warmer and drier than average

Mt Kangtega (6,782m) and Mt Thamserku (6,608m) looking south from the moraine of the Ngzumba Glacier in Gokyo. At present rates of temperature increase, climate scientists say these mountains will lose two-thirds of their remaining ice during this century. Photo: AÏSHA MACDOUGALL

This year’s winter has been warmer and drier in Nepal than any in the previous decade, with temperatures climbing higher than the winter average while precipitation was lower than average. 

Climatic data for two months in November and December 2023 published by the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology shows that the temperature in post-monsoon in Nepal did not drop like it did in previous winters, which were themselves warmer and drier than previous ones. 

Average temperatures in the two months were higher in the eastern Tarai compared to the western plains. Indeed, the average maximum temperature reached as high as 27°C in parts of Kosi and Madhes Provinces in December.

But while nighttime temperatures in the Tarai and most of the mid-hills were also warmer than usual, the temperature in the mountains dropped to lower than average during the evenings. Similarly, the minimum temperature in November and December was higher than the average in the plains and lower than the average in the high mountains as well.

Bardia’s Gulariya, Sankhuasabha’s Khandbari, Kavre’s Panchkhal, Ilam’s Kanyam, and Baitadi’s Patan municipalities as well as Janakpur Airport broke records for the highest maximum temperatures recorded during November and December. 

Gulariya recorded a maximum temperature of 29°C on 3 December, surpassing the previous maximum temperature of 28.5°C recorded in 5 December 2019. Similarly, the maximum temperature in December at Janakpur Airport hit 32.2°C, beating the previous maximum of 30.5°C recorded 12 years ago. 

As it stands, 57 out of 113 weather stations across the country recorded a higher maximum temperature than in previous years during December. Meanwhile, nine weather stations had lower-than-average maximum temperatures for the same timeframe. 

Similarly, 60 stations recorded higher-than-average minimum temperatures in December while six stations recorded lower minimum temperatures than average. We get warmer winters when both the maximum and minimum temperatures are higher than average.

Experts say that climate patterns have changed and become more erratic and unpredictable over the last few years, with 2023 being the hottest year in the past four decades.

This has also been a dry winter. Nepal receives an average of 60mm of rain during the three coldest months. However, the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology recorded just 2.7mm of rain in Kathmandu so far this winter – although eastern Nepal and the far-western mountains did get some late snow. 

Last year's winter was similarly dry with just 12.9mm of rain, the lowest precipitation recorded in the last 15 years. Data shows that 12 out of the last 18 winters had less than average rainfall, and eight out of those 12 winters had droughts. Even compared to those years, the 2023-24 winter has been drier and warmer.

Farmers across Nepal rely on winter rain more than they do on irrigation systems. The production of wheat, barley, mustard, lentils, citrus and vegetables is significantly affected when there is an inappropriate amount of winter rain. 

Similarly, the lack of winter rain also means that Nepal’s rivers are all running low, leading to a decline in the country’s hydropower generation capacity, and the consequent shortfall has to be met by power imports from India.