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India is currently in the grasp of an extensive series of heatwaves. The heatwave throughout the Indian sub-continent began in March and continued through most of April, scorching north and central India. For the past 122 years, northwest India has not experienced a month as hot as April, with temperatures crossing 46oC in the states of Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, and Delhi.
April 2022 was Delhi’s second hottest in 72 years. The temperatures in New Delhi for the past six weeks averaged around 40oC, 4 degrees above normal temperatures. Severe heat scorched Rajasthan, with temperatures rising to 46.5oC. IMD predicted that temperatures in the districts of Jodhpur and Bikaner would rise to 45-47oC in May.
Scientists say that we should be more concerned about the duration of the heatwaves than the actual temperature rise of the heatwave throughout the Indian sub-continent. The periodic spurs of heatwaves of the last six weeks could literally bake the Indian Subcontinent.
India has been witnessing the early onset of summer with a very short-lived spring season for the past few years. Indians now feel the beginning of summer with the arrival of heatwaves between April and June. This trend will soon become the norm.
The number of days India experiences heat waves is increasing at an alarming rate every ten years. Weather stations throughout the country recorded an increasing trend in the frequency of heatwaves between the months of April and June. Experts obtained this information from data recorded by weather stations between 1961 and 2020.
A heatwave generally refers to a very hot day. We describe heat waves as a period of scorching weather. Heatwaves are accompanied by high humidity in countries situated around the tropics and majorly surrounded by the ocean. However, there are many technicalities associated with this word.
The IMD defines a heatwave as a phenomenon that results in temperatures reaching at least 40oC in the plains, 37oC along coasts, and 30oC in hill stations. The IMD also declares a heatwave when temperatures are at 4.5oC above the normal temperature. The IMD categorizes a heatwave as ‘severe’ when temperatures reach 6.5oC above normal. Climate experts also describe a heatwave in India as temperatures between 45-47oC on any given day.
A senior scientist at the Indian Metrological Department (IMD), Naresh Kumar, says that local atmospheric conditions are behind the occurrences of India’s heatwaves. Weak disturbances from the west (mainly storms from the Mediterranean region) caused pre-monsoonal rains in western and central India to lessen, intensifying the heat.
Many scientists agree that various atmospheric factors have contributed to the heatwaves in India, but above all else, the main culprit is global warming. Global warming is the root cause of the heatwave throughout the Indian Sub-continent. The reason for the heatwaves is us – humans.
But apart from global warming, even the increasing population, deforestation, increase in transport, and strain on resources have a role to play in the heatwave throughout the Indian sub-continent. More concrete roads and buildings trap heat, not allowing it to rise to the surface. The current increase in demand for energy supply has led to more burning of coal and fossil fuels, releasing more greenhouse gases and intensifying the heat. Wildfires burning across the country also contributed to the increase in temperatures.
According to NASA, a dome of high pressure has parked itself over India, not allowing the hot air mass to move.
The inland regions of India have experienced, on average, more than eight days of heatwaves from April to June. The areas affected by heatwaves increased between 1991 and 200.
Climate experts predict that the core heatwaves zones, including north, northwest, central, northeast, and east India, will witness the highest number of severe heatwaves in May.
Although several factors have contributed to the heatwave throughout the Indian sub-continent, global warming plays a primary role. The heatwaves did not spare even the Himalayan states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. The Himalayan states typically experience cooler temperatures. But the rise in temperatures even in those places tells us that temperatures across the country have risen, and the occurrence of the heatwaves was not limited to a few isolated events.
Doctors are now more concerned about the health effects triggered by the heatwaves than the predicted fourth wave of Covid in India. Doctors have reported receiving many patients these past few weeks suffering from heatstrokes. Doctors have advised people to wear loose cotton and light-coloured clothes, avoid exposure to intense heat and cover their heads with an umbrella, cloth, or cap/hat.
Heatwaves are capable of having devastating health consequences. High temperatures, even at night, cause disturbances in sleep, not allowing the body to recuperate. If our bodies do not get sufficient rest, it increases our risk of developing illnesses.
Doctors say that 13% of all Indian districts and 15% of India’s population are vulnerable to heatwaves. The poor and the marginalized are the most vulnerable, which account for more than half of India’s population. These people are the most vulnerable since they cannot afford proper healthcare and appliances like air conditioners to escape the heat. The severe heat rising each year in India threatens the livelihoods of farmers. Many farmers have lost their crops due to the heat. India’s population also consists mainly of labourers and migrant workers, whose work compels them to be out in the scorching sun. All the factors make heat waves a massive problem for India’s population.
Doctors and scientists say that even a temperature increase of 0.5oC leads to a significant rise in heat-related mortality. In 2010, heatwaves killed 1,300 people in the city of Ahmedabad alone. A heatwave in June 2015 killed more than 2,000 people across the country. If we ignore high temperatures, they can be fatal to us and our environment.
Our body’s temperature increases with the rising temperatures of our surroundings. High body temperatures lead to the opening up of our blood vessels, leading to lower blood pressure. This means that our heart has to work even harder to be able to circulate blood throughout the body. Symptoms of low blood pressure include nausea, dizziness, and headache. If our blood pressure drops too low, we can risk a heart attack.
We start sweating heavily when our body is trying to reduce its temperature. Heavy sweating leads to the loss of vital salts and fluids from the body.
Extreme heat also has devastating impacts on the environment and species. Flowers burn, ponds and lakes dry up, and migration patterns of birds go haywire. We are changing the climate at a rate faster than wild species can adapt and cope with. When species cannot adapt to their changing environment, they die. Biodiversity loss is our loss. We cannot survive without biodiversity.
The IMD warns that we should not expect any relief from the heatwaves in May. We must expect to experience warmer May nights. The IMD has predicted that the heatwave will intensify in the next few days. High temperatures will persist for at least another week. Scientists and climate experts expect the monsoons to relieve India of the scorching temperatures.
Recent research suggests that India will see an increasing number of days with extreme heat. There have been 600 days of the heatwave in India between 2011 and 2020. The months from May to June have always been hot in India. But climate change and global warming are fuelling extreme temperatures.
The national forecast shows that Delhi will touch a temperature of 43oC. Experts expect the current heatwave throughout the Indian sub-continent to persist till 3rd May in northwestern and central India. Haryana, Chandigarh, and Delhi will experience thunderstorms and dust storms between 2nd May and 4th May.
Officials have issued heatwave warnings for a few major Indian cities. They expect the high-temperature conditions to stay for the next 8-10 days before abating. Climate experts say that the monsoon won’t begin until June or July for most parts of the country. Therefore, we must be prepared for heat waves throughout the rest of the summer months.
The current heatwave we are under is expected to end on 2nd May, just in time for Eid.