Monday, November 12, 2001

Meteorologists use terms such as “harsh,” “severe,” “punishing,” even “brutal” and “forbidding” to describe winter in much of Afghanistan.
But they also make it clear that the gravity of the season in the landlocked, heavily mountainous country in southwestern Asia varies according to geography and topography. They note that winter can actually be mild in southern parts of the region.
“In the winter, temperatures can be balmy on the south coast, with lows in the 40s and 50s and highs in the 70s,” said Stu Ostro, a meteorologist with the Atlanta-based Weather Channel.
By contrast, he says, winter temperatures in the north and mountains of Afghanistan tend to be “harsh, with highs in the 30s and lows well below freezing, and in some cases, below zero.”
“As you get north, you get cold incursions from Russia, Siberia and Kazakhstan, especially in the mountains,” said Mark D. Miller, a meteorologist with, a commercial weather service that lists 90 percent of airlines as its customers.
U.S. special forces teams are currently deployed in the elevated plains in northern Afghanistan, where they are serving as spotters for U.S. bombers and working with anti-Taliban forces.
Nearly 6,000 feet above sea level and surrounded by the rugged Hindu Kush mountain range, the capital, Kabul, has a climate representative of the country’s mountainous central and eastern sections, according to Intellicast, an affiliate of Weather Services International.
“Kabul can have up to one to two feet of snow on the ground during January or February,” said an Intellicast fact sheet that Mr. Miller helped prepare. Its winter temperature averages in the teens.
Winter in Afghanistan runs from December to March.
Meteorologists compare its winter climate to that of mountainous states in the western United States, such as Wyoming, Colorado and Utah.
“Just as winter begins earlier in the Rockies than in the mid-Atlantic or southeastern United States, there’s a potential for snowfall in Afghanistan in November in areas with elevations above 6,000 feet,” said Mr. Miller.
The mammoth Hindu Kush mountain range has six zones, including one that rises to 25,000 feet. That’s nearly 5,000 feet higher than the tallest peak in North America.
Maj. F. Andy Messing Jr., (ret.), a former special forces officer who in 1994 was in the mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan at an elevation of 12,000 feet, is familiar with the more punishing aspects of Afghan winters.
“You have to worry about snowdrifts, ice storms, blizzards and avalanches, and you have to worry about mountains channeling winds,” he said.
Maj. Messing, executive director of the National Defense Council Foundation, explained that winds “that go through canyons accelerate.
“So a wind that might be traveling at 30 mph can increase its speed to 80 mph if it’s channeled through a canyon pass,” he said.
But Maj. Messing stressed that “weather is a double-edged sword.
“The more training you have, it’s to your advantage. Snow can be an advantage, if you are prepared,” he said, noting that it can be useful in tracking.
Afghanistan’s record low temperature of minus-51 degrees Fahrenheit was recorded in the town of Chakhcharan. Like Kabul, it is located in the mountainous central part of the country.
The mountain valleys can experience on average 10 to 30 days per year with snowfall.
But the higher passes receive much more snow, according to the National Climate Data Center, which receives its information from the World Meteorological Organization.
At an elevation of 11,043 feet, North Salang located about 70 miles north of Kabul in Afghanistan’s northeastern mountains receives snow, on average, 98 days out of the year, with depths reaching as high as 177 inches, according to NCDC.
Snow has been seen on the ground there as early as August and as late as June.
In contrast, cities to the south, such as Farah and Kandahar, with elevations of about 3,000 feet, boast maximum average temperatures in the 70s during November. Kandahar has had a record high temperature of 77 degrees in December, 80 in February and 88 in March.

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