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Simmering Heat Waves Induced Discomfiture For Many In India

Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The first heat wave spell scorched Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Telangana, while the second heat wave spell lashed Gangetic West Bengal, Jharkhand and Odisha, with the maximum temperature in some places recording up to seven and eight degrees beyond normal.

By Salam Rajesh

The year 2023 went down in history as the warmest year on record in these past one hundred years according to six globally averaged datasets, with all nine years between 2015 and 2023 hitting the tape as the nine warmest years on record in all datasets (State of the Climate in Asia 2023/WMO-1350, 2024). The report stressed that the global annual mean near-surface temperature in 2023 was 1.45 ± 0.12°C above the 1850–1900 pre-industrial average.

In April (2024), packages of heat waves scorched many parts of India, inducing untold discomfiture for many across the country. The first heat wave spell scorched Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Telangana, while the second heat wave spell lashed Gangetic West Bengal, Jharkhand and Odisha, with the maximum temperature in some places recording up to seven and eight degrees beyond normal.

In Odisha, Baripada and Boudh notched a maximum of 45.2 degrees Celsius. In Gangetic West Bengal, Midnapur recorded a high of 44.5 degrees Celsius while Bankura simmered at 44.6 degrees Celsius. Bengal’s commercial hub Kolkata too experienced simmering heat at 42 degrees Celsius, with a strong gusty hot wind sweeping across the city, limiting people off the streets. In Jharkhand, Daltonganj recorded 43.6 degrees Celsius with Jamshedpur following closely at 43.5 degrees Celsius.

The takeaway key message in the World Meteorological Organization (WMO)’s report for Asia during 2023 suggests that the mean temperature over Asia was 0.91 degrees Celsius above the 1991–2020 reference period, being the second highest on record. For that matter, in 2023 the island nation of Japan experienced its hottest summer on record.

79 reported hydrometeorological hazard events in 2023 led to over 2000 fatalities and impacted more than 9 million people, the WMO report said. South-west China suffered from a drought, with below-normal precipitation levels nearly every month of last year, while essential winter precipitation was below normal in the Hindu Kush Himalaya region, and the rains associated with the Indian summer monsoon were insufficient. This is not all, other bad news is contained in the report too.

The glaciers in High-Mountain Asia lost significant mass over the past 40 years, and that, too, at an accelerating rate, the report stated, indicating that during last year record-breaking high temperatures and drier conditions in the Eastern Himalayas and the Tien Shan (mountain range) exacerbated mass loss. In the long-term measure, this could mean accelerating the process of sea water-level rise due to glaciers melting.

From mountains to oceans, the trend indicated observed anomalies that do not fare good tidings of things to come in the immediate future. The ocean around Asia showed an overall warming trend since the time series began in 1982, while last year the sea-surface temperature anomalies in the north-west Pacific Ocean were the highest on record, says the WMO report.

WMO’s secretary-general Professor Celeste Saulo placed the record straight saying, “We are at a critical juncture, where the impact of climate change intersects with societal inequalities. It is imperative that our actions and strategies mirror the urgency of these times. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the evolving climate is not merely an option, but a fundamental necessity”.

ESCAP (Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific)’s executive secretary Armida Salsiah reflected that “Asia and the Pacific remained the most disaster-impacted region in 2023. Floods and storms continued to cause most disaster-related deaths and economic costs, as they affected the largest number of people. At the same time, the impact of an increasing number of heat waves was also more severe. Yet again, in 2023, vulnerable countries were disproportionately impacted. For example, Tropical Cyclone Mocha, the strongest cyclone in the Bay of Bengal in the last decade, hit Bangladesh and Myanmar”.

Over the long term, a clear warming trend emerged in Asia in the latter half of the twentieth century, with the continent having the largest land mass extending to the Arctic warming faster than the global land and ocean average during the two recent sub-periods, that is, 1961–1990 and 1991–2023, the report stated.

After three consecutive years of La Niña, which ended in early 2023, the tropical Pacific experienced El Niño conditions since the summer of 2023. However, the atmosphere was slower to respond, and it was not until early September that El Niño conditions were well established in both the atmosphere and ocean. The El Niño event is linked to exceptionally hot and dry conditions in South Asia during the summer of last year and was associated with the weaker-than-normal Asian summer monsoon. During August last year, India experienced a record-high monthly mean temperature, as well as an unprecedented rainfall deficit for the month.

Many parts of Asia experienced extreme heat in 2023, while prolonged heat waves affected Southeast Asia in early summer, extending as far west as Bangladesh and eastern India, and north to southern China. In India, severe heat waves in April and June last year resulted in about 110 fatalities due to heatstroke. The most exceptional temperatures occurred in Thailand, Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Vietnam, with Tak in Thailand recording a high of 44.6 degrees Celsius on 15 April last year – the highest temperature on record in the country.

This time around, many pockets in India are breaking the record of last year with Baripada and Boudh in Odisha State notching record high of 45.2 degrees Celsius – overtaking Tak in Thailand’s record high of 44.6 degrees Celsius in April last year. This, however, does not brood good tidings for the underprivileged in India’s countryside exposed to the harsh sun and wind from lack of proper shelters.

In West Bengal, the state government pushed forward the summer break for schools from May to April anticipating health issues for the school-going children in the face of the announced extreme weather event. Last year Noney in Manipur experienced simmering heat at 40 degrees Celsius, and a similar repeat can be expected unless La Nina sweeps in to cool down the temperature and bring relief with the expected monsoon showers.

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