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Season’s heaviest fog stalls flights
Celsius up but chill to stay

Red Road and the Hooghly enveloped in a haze on Sunday morning, the foggiest of the season so far. Pictures by Sanjoy Ghosh

Calcutta woke up to the season’s foggiest morning on Sunday with visibility dropping so low that flights did not take off or land at the airport for three hours.

Vehicles had their blinkers on and trains were forced to slow down as the blanket of dense fog refused to dissipate till around 8am, not unusual for this time of the year.

The weather office said the fog was triggered by a high-pressure belt over central and north India. The system caused relative humidity to rise, resulting in fog and a 1.3-degree increase in the day’s minimum temperature.

The abundance of moisture in the air means the city will get dense fog on Monday too. The density of fog is expected to decrease on New Year’s eve.

Airport officials said around 30 flights scheduled to take off in the morning were delayed by two-and-a-half to three hours. The first to take off after the fog gave way was Air India’s flight to Port Blair at 8am, two-and-a-half hours after its scheduled departure.

Visibility on the runway had started dropping a little after 3.30am and soon fell below 50 metres, making flight operations impossible.

A Qatar Airways flight from Doha was the last flight to land before the temporary shutdown.

The airport has a Cat-II instrument landing system that allows flights to land till visibility drops to 350 metres.

Visibility started improving around 7.30am and flight operations resumed at 8am. The first aircraft to land was Jet Airways’s Calcutta-Bangkok flight.

Inclement weather in Bangladesh and north Bengal compounded the woes of fliers.

A private airline from Singapore to Chittagong in Bangladesh was diverted to Calcutta because of bad weather in Bangladesh.

An Air India flight from Calcutta to Bagdogra with 132 passengers on board could not land there on Saturday after hovering above the airport for 10 minutes. The flight had taken off from Calcutta at 1.40pm, only to return to base in the afternoon. Airlines officials said 144 passengers booked on the return flight were stranded at Bagdogra.

The airline had planned to operate a special flight on Sunday afternoon and passengers were asked to report at Calcutta and Bagdogra. Half an hour before the scheduled take-off, Bagdogra airport sent word that visibility there was not conducive to flight operations.

Airline officials said they would operate the special flight on Monday “if weather permits”. Stranded passengers have been provided hotel accommodation, they added.

Suburban trains in Eastern Railway’s Sealdah division ran 15 to 30 minutes late in the morning till around 9am. Several long-distance trains were delayed by three to four hours on an average.

Motorists who were out early in the morning found driving difficult on open stretches of the Rajarhat Expressway, Jessore Road, VIP Road and Red Road.

“Everyone was driving at barely 20kmph. I had to put on the fog lights,” said Gariahat resident Debshankar Sinha, who was on his way to the Maidan.

According to Met officials, moisture incursion over the past couple of days had also led to a gradual increase in the minimum temperature.

The Celsius had dropped to 13.1 degrees Celsius on Friday, the lowest of the season, but rose to 13.4 degrees on Saturday and 14.7 degrees on Sunday.

The forecast for Monday and Tuesday is around 15 degrees before the Celsius starts to fall again. “There is excess moisture in the air over central India, the region through which the northerly winds blow on their way to the east. Once that high-pressure belt dissipates, the chill will return,” said Gokul Chandra Debnath, director of the India Meteorological Department, Calcutta.

Satellite pictures show the high-pressure belt active over states such as Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. Some of this moisture has been blown eastward as the wind flow in these parts is from northwest to southeast at this time of the year.

“This is the reason why relative humidity has gone up in Calcutta and its neighbourhood,” said a senior official of the IMD, Calcutta.

The minimum temperature on New Year’s Day is expected to be around 14 degrees and a notch lower the next day, which would be the normal for that period.

“We expect a chilly first week of January,” Debnath said.

Calcuttans won’t complain as long as the weather is right to party!