Heavy rainfall in June 2013 triggered flash flooding and landslides throughout the Indian Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, killing more than 6000 people. The vast majority of fatalities and destruction resulted directly from a lake outburst and debris flow disaster originating from above the village of Kedarnath on June 16 and 17. Here, we provide a systematic analysis of the contributing factors leading to the Kedarnath disaster, both in terms of hydrometeorological triggering and topographic predisposition. Topographic characteristics of the lake watershed above Kedarnath are compared with other glacial lakes across the north-western Himalayan states of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, and implications for glacier lake outburst hazard assessment in a changing climate are discussed. Our analysis suggests that the early onset of heavy monsoon rainfall (390 mm, June 10–17) immediately following a 4-week period of unusually rapid snow cover depletion and elevated streamflow was the crucial hydrometeorological factor, resulting in slope saturation and significant run-off into the small seasonal glacial lake. Between mid-May and mid-June 2013, snow-covered area above Kedarnath decreased by around 50 %. The unusual situation of the lake being dammed in a steep, unstable paraglacial environment but fed entirely from snowmelt and rainfall within a fluvial dominated watershed is important in the context of this disaster. A simple scheme enabling large-scale recognition of such an unfavourable topographic setting is introduced. In view of projected 21st century changes in monsoon timing and heavy precipitation in South Asia, more emphasis should be given to potential hydrometeorological triggering of lake outburst and debris flow disasters in the Himalaya.