| A boy dressed as Santa Claus enjoys a cold and foggy morning in New Delhi on Monday. (Reuters)
New Delhi, Dec. 22: Bonfires and blankets were in demand today as a thick sheet of fog smothered northern India into a standstill.
The poor visibility, which dropped below 500 metres in Delhi, claimed two lives in nearby Gurgaon in Haryana. Five were seriously injured in road accidents.
The Delhi weather office held out some hope for tomorrow when department director R.D. Singh said “fog will be there, but not as dense as it was last night”. The fog, persisting for the sixth successive day today, is expected to ease after 1 pm tomorrow.
The Golden Temple in nearby Punjab was hardly visible as Amritsar shivered at 1.5 degree centigrade, the lowest temperature in the plains. In the hills, Srinagar touched a low of minus-4 degree.
While Met officials in Delhi attributed the dense fog to high moisture in the air as humidity touched 95 per cent today, another official blamed air pollution.
Pure fog, he said, lifts within a couple of hours of sunrise, but fog mixed with dust particles and pollutants blocks solar radiation and thus persists longer.
Pollution slows the ground heating process, which keeps the maximum day temperature relatively close to the minimum figure thus making such days unusually cold, he explained.
Delhi recorded a maximum of 15.9 degree, 7 degree below normal, with the minimum at 9.4.
As icy winds swept across Uttar Pradesh, the industrial township of Kanpur hid under quilts behind doors while those outside warmed themselves around bonfires in the market places and with free tea for the poor.
Bareilly recorded the minimum at 8 degree with the state capital, Lucknow, marginally better off at 9.9, the local weather spokesman said. Similar conditions would prevail for another 48 hours, he added.
Last evening, tourists looking forward to a spot of boating at Nakki lake in Rajasthan were welcomed by the sight of a sheet of ice. Their counterparts at Mount Abu, the desert state’s tourist hot spot, shivered at sub-zero temperatures.
Churu was the coldest in the state at 4 degree. Bikaner, Jaipur and Udaipur hovered between 4 and 8 degrees.
The worst affected with zero visibility were Delhi, Udhampur, Jammu, Pathankot, Amritsar, Halwara, Adampur, Chandigarh, Ambala, Kurukshetra, Sonepat, Sirsa, Sirsawa and Suratgarh. Amid the continuing cold wave, Chandigarh recorded 7.4 degree and Hisar in Haryana 6.1.
Airport officials in Delhi said 11 domestic flights were diverted yesterday to Mumbai, Jaipur, Ahmedabad and Bangalore.
Indira Gandhi airport officials said the runway visibility range dropped below 200 metres around 8.40 last night. More than 20 flights were delayed or cancelled. The traffic became somewhat normal this morning around 9.13, when a Lufthansa flight landed. The visibility improved as the day progressed.
Train services in the region, too, were badly hit.