Weather patterns: Early fog delays and threatens commuters

LAHORE: Raza Kharal, who lives in Tayyaba Gardens near the Faizpur intersection of the Motorway, has been late for work every day for the last week. “This year the fog has come early,” he says. “I’m late for work by an hour on good days.”

Residents of 10 housing societies and five congested settlements on the outskirts of north and west Lahore use four interchanges to get on to Canal Bank Road and enter the city, but fog causes delays of an hour or two daily.

“Getting onto the Canal and into the city is a major hassle,” says Yasir Jamil, a resident of Begum Kot. “I sometimes get to work at noon and then have to leave by five so I can get home safely.”

But being late is one of the less serious consequences for commuters. Last year, Kharal lost an uncle in a fog-related accident. A cameraman for a news channel, his uncle was returning home from work late one night. He drove into a tractor-trolley transporting iron rods.

“The visibility was less than five feet. Trucks without headlights loaded with sugarcane and iron rods on the interchange and the Motorway are a real hazard,” says Kharal.

In 2009, the Lahore High Court instructed officials of the NHA and Transport Department to take notice of heavy vehicles commuting across Punjab without headlights. Kharal says he has been using the interchange for the last four years and would estimate that 90 per cent of heavy vehicles run without headlights.

The National Highway Authority closed major highways in the early mornings several days over the past week. Jamil says that the first day of reduced visibility was November 11. “I got to work about three hours late,” he says

According to the Met Department, dense fog pockets have been seen in Model Town, the farms around the Punjab University’s New Campus and in the city’s outskirts, beyond Thokar Niaz Beg and near the Wagha border crossing.

Muhammad Rizwan, the chief meteorologist in Lahore, said he couldn’t say if the fog had arrived earlier this year than last. He said that temperatures in October and November had been similar to last year. If there was more fog, it was likely because of higher dust levels due to a number of large ongoing development projects in the city, he said. “Dust is a catalyst in forming fog when the temperature drops,” he said.

Muhammad Tahir, an official of the Environment Protection Department, said that the lack of mitigation measures taken to settle dust levels across the city, particularly in areas where development projects were taking place, would facilitate the formation of fog as the temperatures drop further.

Uzma Hanif, who wrote Fog Hazards in Punjab for the Pakistan Journal of Meteorology, said a positive relationship exists between fog and dust, but mean temperature and humidity also factor in. She said that fog develops when the daily mean temperature drops below 15.5 degrees Celsius and reaches 80 per cent humidity for cities in northern Punjab.

She said that Met Office data for the last 30 years indicated a change in the pattern of weather and rainfall in the region, which influence the formation of fog. She said that in future, the region will see more and more smog, which is a mixture of fog, dust and carbon soot.

Highway closures and accidents

Jamal Zeb Khan, the staff officer to the DIG (Motorway), said that there had been one car pile-up on the Motorway last year, but no fatalities in fog-related accidents.

But an NHA official told The Tribune that there were 117 deaths in fog-related accidents on GT Road between Lahore and Gujranwala from November 2011 to January 2012. Another 300 people were injured.

Khawaja Imran Raza, the SSP for GT Road from Thokar Niaz Beg to Multan (M5), said there were far more built-up areas along GT Road than the Motorway. “Dense fog settles in pockets, particularly along areas with rivers and pastures,” he said.

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