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More heatwave days this summer, forecasts IMD

ByJayashree Nandi, New Delhi
Apr 02, 2024 05:40 AM IST

IMD warns of searing summer in India with more heatwave days than usual, impacting elections and water shortages; El Nino to blame, but may weaken by June.

Most of India is in for a searing summer between April and June, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said on Monday, warning of “extreme heat” and more than double the number of heatwave days than is seen usually at this time of the year.

A mirage forms at Rajpath amid extreme heat. (Sonu Mehta/HT PHOTO)
A mirage forms at Rajpath amid extreme heat. (Sonu Mehta/HT PHOTO)

The prediction comes as the country prepares to hold the world’s largest elections with tens of thousands expected in political rallies that have already begun to build up and are expected to reach a crescendo in the peak summer weeks.

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The seven-phase polls begin on April 19 and end on June 1.

“There is projection for extreme heat waves in the next three months. All the stakeholders including state governments have made elaborate preparations. Large number of lives have been lost in the past due to extreme heat waves. The level of our preparation has increased manifold. We came out with a national disaster management plan,” said Kiren Rijiju, the Union minister for earth sciences, during IMD’s seasonal temperature outlook briefing.

Around 10 to 20 days of heat waves are expected in various parts of the country against the usual of four to eight days seen in a usual year. The most heat wave prone areas are Gujarat, Madhya Maharashtra, north Karnataka followed by Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, north Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, IMD said in its outlook.

“People have to take part in electoral process and face extreme heat at the same time. We have to be extremely careful in the electoral process,” Rijiju added.

Hotter temperatures are likely to fan water shortages gripping several cities, including metropolitan cities of Bengaluru and Hyderabad, although no impact on the winter-sown wheat crop is likely as harvesting has already begun, the weather department officials said.

Last year, around 30 people in a political function in Maharashtra died of high heat exposure. The incident took place when around a million people attended the Maharashtra Bhushan Award ceremony, which started at 11am and ended at 2pm (the hottest hours of the day). It was held in a 306-acre ground at Kharghar, on a day when the mercury touched 38°C with humid conditions that made for a high heat index.

Kamal Kishore, member secretary, National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), said the agency has written to the Election Commission with an advisory for all states on how to prevent heat stress during elections.

The Union health ministry also said it has written to Election Commission specifically on possible exigencies during rallies or large political gatherings.

Wide spread

The hotter temperatures are likely to manifest in above-normal day and night temperatures throughout the three-month period in most parts of the country except in some pockets of east, northeast and northwest India, where the highs may be below-normal on average.

The scorching temperatures are likely to begin with the south peninsular, northwest central India, east India and plains of northwest India, where heatwave days are likely to be higher than usual beginning April itself.

Parts of Peninsular India are already recording extreme heat. The agency on Monday issued a special warning for districts of South Bengal for April 1 to April 5 period for heat wave and humid heat.

Also read: March ends on a dry note with 75% rain deficiency in Delhi

Maximum temperatures are in the range of 40-42°C at a few places over Rayalaseema and at isolated pockets over West Madhya Pradesh, Gangetic West Bengal, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Vidarbha, Telangana, Coastal Andhra Pradesh, Yanam and Madhya Maharashtra. Minimum temperatures too are above normal by 3-5°C at many places over East Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Maharashtra; at a few places over Bihar; at isolated places over Odisha.

El Nino at play

Experts attributed the higher likelihood of heatwaves and the hotter summer in general to the El Nino phenomenon, which is marked by a warming of the equatorial Pacific Ocean, which in turns leads to a cascading effect across the world.

But, encouragingly, latest forecasts indicate that strength of El Nino is likely to weaken from May-June — although it will still impact the summer. “We can expect extreme temperatures this summer mainly because of the impact of El Nino. Models are also indicating the development of La Nina conditions during the monsoon season, which may mean that we will have a good monsoon,” said M Mohapatra, IMD’s director general.

This year’s El Nino is one of the five strongest ever recorded. “El Nino occurs on average every two to seven years, and typically last nine to 12 months. It is a naturally occurring climate pattern associated with warming of the ocean surface in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. It influences weather and storm patterns in different parts of the world. But it takes place in the context of a climate being changed by human activities,” WMO said earlier this month.

Other experts attributed the record-breaking heat globally last year to the climate crisis. “Every month since June 2023 has set a new monthly temperature record — and 2023 was by far the warmest year on record. El Nino has contributed to these record temperatures, but heat-trapping greenhouse gases are unequivocally the main culprit,” WMO Secretary-General Celeste Saulo earlier said.

What’s at stake

Vulnerable people will be particularly at risk. “During heatwaves, elevated temperatures pose significant risks, especially for vulnerable populations like the elderly, children, and those with pre-existing health conditions, who are more susceptible to heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Additionally, prolonged periods of extreme heat can lead to dehydration, and strain infrastructure such as power grids and transportation systems,” IMD warned.

To address these challenges, it added, “it is imperative for authorities to take proactive measures. This includes providing access to cooling centers, issuing heat advisories, and implementing strategies to alleviate urban heat island effects in affected areas. Such efforts are essential for safeguarding public health and minimizing the adverse impacts of heatwaves”.

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