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Squall leaves 60 dead, stormy summer ahead

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) on Wednesday issued a warning for thunderstorms, hail and lightning in parts of north and northeast India.

india Updated: Apr 18, 2019 01:59 IST
Jayashree Nandi
Jayashree Nandi
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
rain,thunderstorm,Squall
An autorickshaw crushed under a tree uprooted by recent rain and storm, in Udaipur, Rajasthan on April 17, 2019. (HT Photo)

Over 60 people were killed and crops damaged after rain, thunderstorm and lightning hit parts of north, west and central India at the start of a summer in which such extreme weather events could be fairly common, officials and experts said on Wednesday.

Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat took the maximum hit due to the change in weather over Monday and Tuesday, while residents in Delhi experienced intermittent showers and strong winds that brought down the temperature by up to 10 degrees.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi “expressed grief at the loss of lives due to unseasonal rains” in various parts of the country, his office tweeted. “The government is doing its best to provide all possible assistance to those affected. The situation is being monitored closely,” the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said.

Modi approved “an ex-gratia of Rs 2 lakh each from the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund for the next of kin” of those killed, the PMO said, adding that the government also approved Rs 50,000 each for the injured.

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) on Wednesday issued a warning for thunderstorms, hail and lightning in parts of north and northeast India. It added that “fairly widespread to widespread rainfall with isolated thunderstorms, lightning and gusty winds are likely over Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh and Delhi, northeast Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand” in the next 24 hours.

There is no forecast for any western disturbance in the next seven days, except for one on April 22, which will only affect Jammu and Kashmir. Western disturbances are cyclonic circulations which originate over the Mediterranean Sea, Caspian Sea and Black Sea, and move eastwards across north India and bring precipitation when the weather system reaches the Himalayas.

During the winter, parts of north India, including Delhi, experienced 18 western disturbances — many of which brought rain and a sudden drop in temperature — as opposed to the average five to six western disturbances that the region experiences in an average winter season.

The weather department also predicted a higher-than-normal number and intensity of heat waves this summer. This will, in turn, make conditions favourable for intense dust storms and thunderstorms, which will bring down the temperatures for a brief period in northwest India in April and May.

High temperatures in Delhi and northwest India, particularly Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, induced the recent thunderstorms, said Mahesh Palawat, vice-president (meteorology and climate change) at Skymet Weather.

On April 15, Delhi recorded a maximum temperature of 40 degrees Celsius. It fell to 30.7 degrees Celsius — six degrees below normal — on Wednesday after the thunderstorms on Monday and Tuesday. “There are four parameters important for thunderstorm formation — intense heat, availability of moisture, instability of atmosphere and a cyclonic circulation. Heating this year may be one of the factors in favour of storms, but there will be thunderstorms only if there is adequate moisture. There will be dust storms where there is no moisture,” said M Mohapatra, director general of meteorology at IMD.

He added that the temperature will be comfortable for the next two-three days and then rise significantly.

Professor SK Dash of the Centre for Atmospheric Sciences (CAS) at the Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi said, “We know that warmer atmospheric conditions have increased the incidents of lightning and thunderstorms in many parts of the world. Heat plays a major role in bringing on thunderstorms. The exact mechanism of climate change induced thunderstorms is still being studied.”

IMD earlier said that weak El Nino conditions prevailing over the equatorial Pacific Ocean will lead to higher temperatures in northwest and central India. El Nino is a weather phenomenon characterised by warm ocean temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. El Nino years are characterised by a weak monsoon and more episodes of heat waves. In the rain and storms triggered by this week’s western disturbance, 24 people died in Rajasthan, said disaster management, relief and civil defence department secretary Ashutosh Pednekar. Madhya Pradesh revenue secretary Manish Rastogi said, “We have reports of 21 deaths due to squalls from all over the state.” In Gujarat and Maharashtra, officials put the toll at 10 and three, respectively. In Uttar Pradesh, two people were killed by lightning on Wednesday.

Apart from the Centre, the affected states too announced aids for the victims’ families. Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot condoled the deaths, directing authorities to conduct a survey of losses and damages caused. The western state also announced a compensation of ?4 lakh each for the families of the victims. Madhya Pradesh CM Kamal Nath too expressed grief over the deaths. According to the MP Congress, the state government announced a compensation of Rs 4 lakh each for the family of those killed. Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani announced an aid of Rs 2 lakh each for the kin of the deceased.

Last year, thunderstorms claimed 166 lives in Uttar Pradesh (April-May) and 75 in Jharkhand (June-July). Dust storms killed over 150 lives in Uttar Pradesh (May) and 68 in Rajasthan (April-May). However, the national capital was largely unaffected.

First Published: Apr 18, 2019 00:38 IST