More than 100 killed as powerful dust storm leaves trail of destruction, IMD says brace for more
A chain of powerful thunderstorms, a freak pre-monsoon phenomenon that experts blamed on a confluence of three weather factors, pounded parts of north and north-west India overnight Wednesday, killing at least 117 people and leaving a trail of destruction in at least six states.
Hundreds more were injured in the storms that packed windspeeds of up to 130 km per hour, and wrecked mud houses, damaged crops, uprooted trees and electricity pylons, cutting off power supplies and disrupting train traffic in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana.
Western Uttar Pradesh and neighbouring eastern Rajasthan bore the brunt of the storms; 111 people died in the two states, most of them from house collapses.
A cyclonic circulation, induced by a western atmospheric disturbance, high moisture levels brought by easterly winds and a recent spell of unusually high temperatures that soared to 45 degrees Celsius were responsible for the thunderstorms, Kuldeep Srivastava, a senior official at the India Meteorological Department (IMD), said.
The result was a squall line or a chain of thunderstorm clouds that emerged on Wednesday afternoon from north Rajasthan to eastern Uttar Pradesh, passing over Delhi as well.
“It can be called a freak incident,” Mahesh Palawat, chief meteorologist at Skymet Weather, a private forecaster, said. “Dust storms are usually not this intense, nor do these systems cover such a large area.”
Of the 75 deaths in UP, 46 were reported from the Agra division. Deaths were also reported from districts such as Kanpur, Hamirpur, Bijnore and Meerut as the storms cut a wide swathe starting at 7 pm on Wednesday.
In Rajasthan, 36 deaths were reported, most of them in Bharatpur, a district neighbouring Agra. In northern Madhya Pradesh’s Bhind region, two children died and more than a dozen people were injured. In Uttarakhand, a hailstorm killed two in the Kumaon division. In Punjab’s Patiala, two people were killed in a thunderstorm.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi directed central officials to coordinate with states in ensuring speedy relief and rehabilitation efforts. “Saddened by the loss of lives due to dust storms in various parts of India,” he tweeted.
Uttar Pradesh chief secretary, Rajive Kumar, said the commissioners of Agra and other divisions have been directed to distribute relief supplies and compensation to victims.
Rajasthan chief minister, Vasundhare Raje, instructed her cabinet colleagues to take charge of the relief work in affected districts. “An unfortunate incident, we have been working closely with local authorities to mitigate the situation,” Raje tweeted.
Although no deaths were reported, normal life was also hit in many places in Punjab and Haryana on Wednesday after a high-velocity dust storm swept the states. A vast quantity of freshy harvested wheat was drenched by heavy rain in many parts of the two states.
Apart from traffic snarls, 15 flights, including two international ones, were diverted because of bad weather, airport officials in Delhi said. Railway traffic was also affected, with about 50 trains delayed, railway officials said.
The weather department predicted more thunderstorms in parts of north and central India in the next two days. The hill regions of Himachal Pradesh and Uttararkhand may experience hailstorms.The intensity of the storms may be much less than the Wednesday night’s chain of storms, the India Meteorological Department said in a statement.
Climate scientists attributed an increase in the frequency of storms to climate changes stemming from global warming, caused by heat-trapping greenhouse gases.
“Thunderstorms, flash floods and heat waves are likely to increase in future and their intensity will be more visible in northern India. This is also mentioned in the fifth assessment report of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC),” said Venkatesh Dutta, an associate professor in the department of environmental science at Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University (BBAU), Lucknow.