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A Western Disturbance is an extratropical storm originating in the Mediterranean region that brings sudden winter rain to the northwestern parts of the Indian subcontinent. It is a non-monsoonal precipitation pattern driven by the westerlies. The moisture in these storms usually originates over the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Extratropical storms are a global phenomena with moisture usually carried in the upper atmosphere, unlike their tropical counterparts where the moisture is carried in the lower atmosphere. In the case of the subcontinent, moisture is sometimes shed as rain when the storm system encounters the Himalayas.
Western disturbances originate in the Mediterranean region. A high-pressure area over Ukraine and neighbourhood consolidates, causing the intrusion of cold air from polar regions towards an area of relatively warmer air with high moisture. This generates favorable conditions for cyclogenesis in the upper atmosphere, which promotes the formation of an eastward-moving extratropical depression. Traveling at speeds up to 12 m/s (43 km/h; 27 mph), the disturbance moves towards the Indian subcontinent until the Himalayas inhibits its development, upon which the depression rapidly weakens.
Western disturbances, specifically the ones in winter, bring moderate to heavy rain in low-lying areas and heavy snow to mountainous areas of the Indian Subcontinent. They are the cause of most winter and pre-monsoon season rainfall across northwest India. Precipitation during the winter season has great importance in agriculture, particularly for the rabi crops. Wheat among them is one of the most important crops, which helps to meet India’s food security. An average of four to five western disturbances form during the winter season. The rainfall distribution and amount varies with every western disturbance.
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