Is India’s intense heat wave a sign of climate change and global warming?
- April was the hottest month for northwest and central India and the third-hottest April the country has seen over the past 122 years, from 1901 to 2022.
- The heat wave is also taking lives. It has already taken 25 lives in Maharashtra, in April and March, which is the highest in six years, and over 374 cases of heat stroke have been reported in this period.
- We take a closer look at the heat patterns, cascading impacts of a heat wave and how can we control climate change.
AdvertisementSummer has arrived early this year. The hottest March in 122 years was followed by even more intense heat waves in April. As per the India Meteorological Department, April was the hottest month for northwest and central India and the third-hottest April the country has seen over the past 122 years, from 1901 to 2022.
This April, which left more than a billion people sweltering, was not ‘just another hot month.’ It indicates a recurring pattern of intense hot spells, which could be a sign of climate change and
Could these intense and recurring heat waves be a sign of climate change?
The number of heat wave days in India in a decade has increased from 413 during 1981-90 to 575 in 2001-10 and further to 600 in 2010-20, a study by IMD and Kottayam-based Institute for Climate Change Studies (ICCS) said, highlighting the impact of climate crisis on the maximum temperatures. In fact, 12 of the country’s 15 warmest years on record have occurred in the last 30 years.
The daily high temperatures measured each year have also been increasing at a faster rate than daily low temperatures. This indicates that the distribution of temperature is shifting and changing the ‘normal’ state.
The heat wave is also taking lives. The 2015 heat wave in June killed more than 2,500 people and the 2022 heat wave in March and April has already taken 25 lives in Maharashtra, which is the highest in six years, and over 374 cases of heat stroke have been reported in this period.
Experts predict that before climate change, such intensity of heat would have only been seen about once in every 50 years in India. However, it is now expected to occur once every four years.
Is the worst yet to come?
Let’s take a closer look at the heat patterns in April. On April 27, 2022, the highest temperature in the country, 45.9°C (114.6°F), was recorded in Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh.
Barmer in West Rajasthan in the northwest reported a high of 45.1°C (113.2°F) a day before, according to the India Meteorological Department. Many other cities and towns recorded temperatures of 42-44°C (108-111°F).
AdvertisementThese patterns could change in the future. So, is the worst yet to come?
As per India’s Ministry of Earth Sciences, the frequency of warm extremes over India has increased during 1951–2015, with accelerated warming trends during the recent 30-year period. Significant change is observed for the warmest day, warmest night and coldest night since 1986.
Our country, which is reeling through a heat wave right now, is also expected to suffer through more frequent and intense hot spells, extreme rainfall and erratic monsoons in the coming decades as the planet warms, said United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel, a body for assessing the science related to climate change.
On the other hand, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) released a statement that said “it is premature to attribute the extreme heat in India and Pakistan solely to climate change.”
The global body added that the heat is consistent with what it expects in a changing climate. The WMO also noted that these “heat waves are more frequent and more intense and starting earlier than in the past.”
AdvertisementCascading impacts of a heat wave
The summer in India has been brutal in the past couple of years, with heat wave deaths occurring with more regularity, especially in heat wave-prone regions of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra and Odisha. It also has led to cascading impacts not just on human health, but also on ecosystems such as agriculture, water and energy supplies.
Power demand has spiked and coal inventories have dropped, leaving the country with its worst power shortage in more than six years.
Additionally, in the last seven days, India’s Forest Survey department (FSI) has reported more than 7800 forest fires in various parts of the country.
The heat wave has also threatened India’s wheat output plan.
AdvertisementHowever, there’s still hope to control climate change. It will involve a substantial reduction in fossil fuel use, widespread electrification, improved energy efficiency, and use of alternative fuels (such as hydrogen).
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