This year, however, has been warm. Uncharacteristically warm: The daylight hours staying above zero degrees Fahrenheit, the nights barely dipping into the -20s, and sidewalks already becoming damp with melting snow . As we approach spring, a few things have become apparent as to the seriousness associated with the mellow winter we have had:
1. Treacherous waters. Usually, rivers and lakes will freeze and allow vehicles to glide across their surface, shortening trips for certain people. The most notable freeze happens on Mongolia’s two most famous lakes: Khuvsgul and Uvs. You hear rumors about the bottom of Lake Khuvsgul being a bit of a graveyard, littered with sunken trucks, cars, and vans that met an untimely end on thin ice. This year, the Ice Festival at Lake Khuvsgul has been cancelled due to the ice being about 30cm thinner than last year. The weather didn’t get cold enough to freeze the lake thoroughly, so ice shagai and fish khushur will have to wait until next year.
2. Drought. It barely snowed at all this year. I can only really recall two or three times I woke up and saw fresh snow on the ground outside my window. Last year, it seemed like there was fresh snow every couple of days: The workers would have to go break up the compacted snow and shovel the shards off of sidewalks and roads quite frequently. This year has not seen such a repeat. The low precipitation has herders worried: without much melting snow, there won’t be much water to help grass grow. Without grass, animals will starve and dust storms could be more severe.
The current forecast has snow coming early next week in my region, but I’m doubtful it will be enough to alleviate the concerns of the herders come spring. Every little bit helps, though.
Update (03/02/14): The Hindu wrote an interesting piece on the growing importance of water in Mongolia. Check it out!