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Asia under the weather

Across Asia weather disturbances are playing havoc, but experts are not linking these to overall climate change in the absence of evidence, reports Zia Haq.

delhi Updated: Aug 25, 2010 22:29 IST
Zia Haq
Zia Haq
Hindustan Times

Climatologists analysing Pakistan’s catastrophic flooding, which killed an estimated 1,500 people and sent 20 per cent of its land under water, say India escaped the fury by a whisker.

The ripples were felt in Leh, a “cold desert” that crowns India’s northern tip. On August 6 there, a “cloudburst”, or a sudden spell of piercing rains, left at least 170 dead.

Russia’s severe heat wave has killed an estimated 7,000 so far. The heat wave has sparked raging fires, and on August 10, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin personally took part in the firefight, flying a plane that dropped dousing chemicals in Moscow’s south.

Intense storms have raised water levels in China’s Three Gorges Dam to heights never seen since 1998. At least 146 have been confirmed dead.

Across Asia, adverse weather has done all that adverse weather can do. Some glitches are particularly worrying.

Damodar S. Pai, director, forecast, IMD, is closely following Asian weather patterns from his Pune office. He is one among many meteorologists left puzzled by the events.

Chillingly, Pai says the torrential rains in Pakistan could have occurred in India had the storm built up a few hundred miles away on the Indian side.

Explaining “large-scale weather anomalies” this year, India’s Met chief, Ajit Tyagi, says these have resulted in regional imbalances, causing parts of northwest India to receive normal or excess rainfall and drought in some eastern states.

Jolted Asian countries have woken up to “severe-weather” warnings.

India continues to be on alert because heavier rainfall is due towards September-end, the time when the monsoon should be tapering off.

Russian leaders, who deny climate change and therefore refuse to cut emissions, are showing signs of a change of heart. On July 30, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev said in Moscow: “What's happening with the planet's climate right now needs to be a wake-up call … in order to take a more energetic approach to countering the global changes to the climate.”

Chinese Vice-Premier Hui Liangyu has ordered disaster drills along that country’s Huai river, a major waterway, which has received 50 per cent more rainfall than last year.

The most significant anomaly in weather patterns this year is the ongoing shift from El Nino to La Nina conditions.

La Nina, Spanish for “the little girl”, denotes cooling of the waters of the Pacific Ocean. This cooling gives rise to stronger rain-bearing winds. The heavy rainfall India expects in September-end is being attributed to a brewing La Nina.

La Nina is the reverse of last year’s El Nino, when the abnormal warming of the ocean surface took place and caused India’s worst drought in 30 years.

Climate forecasts are meant to aid better disaster preparedness. According to Pai, the Leh disaster holds out a key lesson for people of that region. “People should not be allowed to permanently inhabit the foothills of Leh. It’s not a safe place to be in.”

Scientists are, however, ruling out a provable link of the current events in Asian weather to the more tempting issue of global warming. Such links cannot be established without long-term empirical evidence, says Pai.

First Published: Aug 25, 2010 22:23 IST