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Hailstorm covers Darjeeling white

Girls in the ice-covered courtyard of Loreto Convent
Darjeeling was covered in white with the hill town experiencing an unprecedented bout of hailstorm at noon today.
Hailstone accompanied by a strong drizzle that lasted for nearly an hour from 11.45am had the town covered in more than four inches of ice.
It had last snowed here in 2008 and even though hailstones were not as soothing as snowfall, an icy Darjeeling was greeted with much enthusiasm by local residents and tourists alike. <>The scene was like a snow-covered Darjeeling.Saha and his friends were stuck in a massive traffic jam near the district magistrate' office along 18 Lebong Cart Road. Hailstorms occur when there is moisture in the air and temperature soars high. Walking became a Herculean task mainly through uphill paths.
Tea planters were concerned about the damage to first flush.
Sandeep Mukherjee, the principal advisor to the Darjeeling Tea Association, said: "Hailstones at this time will definitely affect the first flush. We are, however, still collecting reports of the damage from different places."
The first flush plucking starts from February-end and continues till April. First flush constitutes around 15-20 per cent of the total annual tea production and commands highest price and is suited for export. Darjeeling produces around 8 million kg of made-tea annually.
Sources at the Indian Meteorological Department in Calcutta said there was a forecast of rainfall and thunder-squall across north Bengal in the next few days and hailstorm in Sikkim. "Like it happened in Darjeeling today, there is a forecast of similar hailstorm in Sikkim in the next few days. There was isolated rain in some areas of north Bengal today," said an IMD source.
While Siliguri received rain today, there was a bout of hailstorm in Fulbari.(TT)

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