New Delhi: This is usually the time of year when people in north India begin packing away their woollens as the days and nights warm up but experts say the winter season is expected to continue till the first week of March. Although Thursday seemed to be warm, the temperature is likely to drop in next two days, according to an India Meteorological Department (IMD) official.

"The temperature will drop by two degrees as there are chances of rainfall from February 23 onwards for few days. The minimum temperature won't drop much but the maximum temperature will," the official told IANS.

According to private weather forecasting agency Skymet, a major reason for the long winter this season was because of frequent and intense western disturbances, the meteorological term for a storm system emanating from the Mediterranean Sea which causes rain or snowfall in the northwestern region of the Indian subcontinent.

"There has been seven western disturbances of major intensity in the western Himalayas and four so far in February which resulted in frequent snowfall and rain in Himachal region. The cold winds are carried to Delhi, UP and other northern states which resulted in a drop in temperature," Skymet Director Mahesh Palawat explained.

As per the experts, the temperature is likely remain cool till the first week of March.

Sonam Lotus, the director of the Met department in Srinagar, also attributed the prolonged winter to the frequent western disturbances.

"In J&K we have received excess winter precipitation due to frequent western disturbances, resulting in the early onset of winter and also the extended winter this season," Lotus told IANS.

"Fresh snowfall has occurred in the higher reaches and heavy rain in the plains of J&K during the last 12 hours. More snowfall and rain is likely to occur in the state during the next 24 hours (till Friday)," another Met department official said.

Fresh snowfall in the Banihal sector blocked the Jammu-Srinagar national highway.

On Thursday, it was raining heavily along the 300-km stretch at various places both in the Kashmir Valley and the Jammu division.

The minimum temperature in Srinagar was 0.6 degrees and minus 0.1 and minus 3.2 in Pahalgam and Gulmarg. Leh town recorded minus 2.6, Kargil minus 12.6 and Drass minus 5.3 in the Ladakh region.

The story was no different in Himachal Pradesh as a fresh spell of snowfall and widespread rain was expected in various parts of the state from February 25-26 and from March 1-2, IMD scientist Manish Rai told IANS on Thursday.

"This winter season (November to February) we are seeing western disturbances at regular intervals in the Himalayan region in comparison to the previous winter (2017-18). For this reason, we are seeing extremely bone-chilling conditions," he added.

In Lucknow, the Met office has predicted rain, thundershowers and even hailstorm in the next 24 hours till Friday in western Uttar Pradesh.

According to the weatherman, strong winds will accompany the rain and thundershowers and at some places it might even turn into a hailstorm as the weather has taken a U-turn after a warm Wednesday.

The Met office has advised people not to pack away the woollens yet. After a spell of a few warm, days another bout of the winter chill is on its way.

Moisture-laden winds will bring back the chill early morning and in the late evening, it said.

It is likely to snow heavily in the neighbouring hill state of Uttarakhand over the next 48 hours till Saturday, which would further affect the Uttar Pradesh weather, the Met office said.