The frequent arrival of western disturbances (wind storms) in India’s northwestern region in this month has once again revived the cold in the hills of Himachal Pradesh, with most of the areas experiencing moderate to heavy rainfall, a Met official said here Monday.

But it has cheered the apple growers as snow brightens the prospects of a bumper crop.

The state has received over 400 percent precipitation, in both liquid and solid form, against the normal in March, meteorological office director Manmohan Singh told IANS.

He attributed the excess rain and snow to active western disturbances. "This time their frequency is higher compared to previous years."

He said the maximum precipitation in the state in March was recorded in Sirmaur district, adjoining Uttarakhand.

"From March 1 to 9, Sirmaur saw 183 mm precipitation against the normal average of 10.2 mm, which is 1,700 percent higher," he added.

The picturesque Lahaul Valley in the remote Lahaul-Spiti district was also worst affected by snowfall this season, breaking a 36-year record.

Local legislator Ravi Thakur, who is also the vice chairperson of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, told IANS: "As per local records, the Lahaul Valley has experienced the heaviest snow in the last 36 years."

He said most of the villages in the valley have been cut off since the March 1-2 snow. Some of the places experienced eight to 10 feet snow this winter, which is unprecedented so far.

"I have asked the state government to immediately conduct an aerial survey of the valley to ascertain the damage to public and private property," he said.

Heavy snow has also hampered snow-clearing operations on the 475-km-long strategically important Manali-Leh highway.

"The snow-clearing operation between Manali and Leh normally starts on March 1 every year. This time it has been delayed owing to heavy snow on March 1-2," an officer of the GREF’s 38 Task Force told IANS.

GREF or General Reserve Engineering Force is a wing of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) that maintains crucial highways in the country.

The entire 475-km road stretch between Manali and Leh, crucial for movement of the armed forces to areas in the Ladakh region that border China and Pakistan, remains off-limits for over six months due to heavy snow. The road was shut down in mid-December last year.

The snow-clearing takes over two months to make the road pliable.

But plentiful snow has cheered apple growers.

After last year’s lean season, apple growers in the state are hoping for a good crop this year because of favourable weather.

"Snow and rain this month (March) are beneficial for apple and other fruit crops," an official of the state horticulture department said.

He said regular snow and rain in apple-growing belts have sufficiently increased the moisture content in the soil that helped the plants get nutrients in the pre-flowering season (April).

S.P. Bhardwaj, a former joint director at the Solan-based Dr. Y.S. Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry, said the snowfall in March is a bonus for the apple crop.

"The prevailing chilly weather didn’t allow the temperature to go to an extent where the dormancy of the plant could break. This snow and rain is good for the crop," he added.

The economy of the Himalayan state is highly dependent on horticulture – besides hydroelectric power and tourism – with the fruit industry worth about Rs.2,000 crore (Rs.20 billion/$430 million) per year.