What Is Going On With India's Weather?

What Is Going On With India's Weather?

On May 19, India’s all-time temperature record was smashed in the northern city of Phalodi in the state of Rajasthan. Temperatures soared to 51℃, beating the previous record set in 1956 by 0.4℃.

India is known for its unbearable conditions at this time of year, just before the monsoon takes hold. Temperatures in the high 30s are routine, with local authorities declaring heatwave conditions only once thermometers reach a stifling 45℃. But the record comes on the back of an exceptionally hot season, with several heatwaves earlier in the year. So what’s to blame for these scorching conditions?

Much of India is in the grip of a massive drought. Water resources are scarce across the country. Dry conditions exacerbate extreme temperatures because the heat energy usually taken up by evaporation heats the air instead.

The complex relationship between droughts and heatwaves is an area of active scientific research, although we know a preceding drought can significantly amplify the intensity and duration of heatwaves.

India’s drought was a possible factor in the earlier heatwaves in April over central and southern India. However, Rajasthan, where 51℃ was recorded, is always bone-dry in May. So the drought made no difference to the record temperature.

The El Niño effect

We have also experienced one of the strongest El Niño events on record. While the current event has recently ceased, its sting is certainly still being felt.

El Niño episodes are associated with higher-than-average global temperatures and have also been a factor in some of India’s past heatwaves. However, there is no direct connection to El Niño in Rajasthan, because its climate at this time of year is so dry anyway.

India also has an extreme air pollution problem. Caused largely by domestic fuel and wood burning, it kills up to 400,000 people every year. This pollution, made up of fine particles called aerosols, also has the effect of cooling the local climate by reflecting or absorbing sunlight before it reaches the ground, thus reducing the likelihood of the most extreme high temperatures.

So although India is no stranger to extreme heat at this time of year, the smog has kept record-breaking high temperatures at bay – until now. This is what makes the record in Phalodi remarkable.

Longer-term heat extremes

A study published in 2013 analysed annual trends in extremes and found no significant change in the intensity of extreme Indian temperatures between 1951 and 2010. The high levels of local air pollution were probably behind the lack of change.

However, the study found a significant increase in the frequency of extreme temperatures and a remarkable trend in the duration of warm spells in India, as the map below shows. Warm spells, defined as at least six days of extreme temperatures relative to the location and time of year, increased by at least three days per decade over 1951-2010 – the largest trend recorded globally.

Global trends in ‘warm spell duration index’, which shows that the duration of heatwaves in India has increased markedly relative to the 1961-90 average. Data are also available via www.climdex.org. J. Geophys. Res.

It is worth keeping in mind that these trends are annual and are influenced by extremes all year round. However, monthly trends in the frequency of Indian temperature extremes for May, which can be found on the CLIMDEX climate database, show an increase over the past 60 years.

Based on local station data, the Indian Meteorological Department reported that many northern states experienced an average of eight heatwave days each March-July between 1961-2010. Trends in “normal” and “severe” heatwaves increased over this time, and in particular over the last decade of the analysis.

Some Indian regions also tended towards longer and more intense heatwaves after an El Niño, and northwestern states of India, where Phalodi is located, tend to experience more intense events anyway. Trends in the intensity of extreme temperatures are less clear and vary across the country.

Different spatial and temporal scales and methods of quantifying extreme temperature hamper a direct comparison of the two studies described above. However, they both document an increase in the frequency of extreme temperatures over India, which is consistent with many other regions worldwide. Heatwave indices and the hottest yearly temperature have only increased significantly in a relatively small region of western India.

What will the future bring?

Most climate models do not do a great job of capturing observed trends in heatwaves over India, because large-scale models struggle to accurately represent the localised effect of aerosols.

It is therefore difficult to use them in great detail for future projections, particularly if pollution levels continue or even increase. However, if air pollution is reduced, temperatures will rise with a vengeance. We know this from experience over Europe, where summer temperature trends were virtually zero up to the 1980s and very strong afterwards, once air pollution was controlled.

Even though this is the hottest time of the year for the region, the recent weather should not be dismissed as regular. It is feasible that India’s pollution problem has been “hiding” extreme heat spikes.

While any clean-up activities will have many positive local health impacts, these are likely to cause more intense heatwaves in future. This will be amplified by background warming due to climate change, which is also likely to drive increases in the frequency of temperature extremes.

Last year India and neighbouring Pakistan suffered similarly atrocious conditions, killing thousands of people. This year’s death toll is already over 1,000, with numbers sure to rise further.

India is already highly vulnerable to the health impacts of oppressive heatwaves and, as climate change continues, this vulnerability will grow. It is therefore imperative that heat plans are put in place to protect the population. That’s a difficult prospect in places that lack communications infrastructure or widespread access to air conditioning.

In the longer term, this episode shows that the global warming targets agreed in Paris have to be taken seriously, so that unprecedented heatwaves and their deadly impacts don’t become unmanageable in this part of the world.

About The Authors

Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, Research Fellow, UNSW Australia

Andrew King, Climate Extremes Research Fellow, University of Melbourne

Geert Jan van Oldenborgh, Climate researcher, Royal Dutch Meteorological Institute

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Related Books

List Price: $17.00
Sale Price: $17.00 $13.34 You save: $3.66
Product Description:

On the world maps common in America, the Western Hemisphere lies front and center, while the Indian Ocean region all but disappears. This convention reveals the geopolitical focus of the now-departed twentieth century, but in the twenty-first century that focus will fundamentally change. In this pivotal examination of the countries known as “Monsoon Asia”—which include India, Pakistan, China, Indonesia, Burma, Oman, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Tanzania—bestselling author Robert D. Kaplan shows how crucial this dynamic area has become to American power. It is here that the fight for democracy, energy independence, and religious freedom will be lost or won, and it is here that American foreign policy must concentrate if the United States is to remain relevant in an ever-changing world. From the Horn of Africa to the Indonesian archipelago and beyond, Kaplan exposes the effects of population growth, climate change, and extremist politics on this unstable region, demonstrating why Americans can no longer afford to ignore this important area of the world.

Price: $28.24
Product Description: 'A triumph: a first class comprehensive narrative of the impact upon the people of the Indian Ocean of those who penetrated it. It is hard to believe that this account of a European epic has any rival.' J.M. ROBERTS, author of the Penguin History of the World Until Vasco da Gama discovered the sea-route to the East in 1497-9 almost nothing was known in the West of the exotic cultures and wealth of the Indian Ocean and its peoples. It is this civilisation and its destruction at the hands of the West that Richard Hall recreates in this book. Hall's history of the exploration and exploitation -- by Chinese and Arab travellers, and by the Portuguese, Dutch and British alike -- is one of brutality, betrayal and colonial ambition. It is history told with the true gift of a storyteller and a keen eye for the exotic. It is a compelling and instructive epic.

List Price: $49.00
Sale Price: $49.00 $30.76 You save: $18.24
Product Description:

• This book presents a different vision of the monsoon and the feelings associated with the rainy season: monsoon feelings have a history, which encompasses both continuity and change

• The essays in the book explore the rain-drenched worlds of poetry, songs, paintings, architecture, films, gardens, festivals, music, and medicine, in South Asia from the twelfth century to the present

• Each of the essays in the book is written by a specialist in the field of South Asian arts and culture

The monsoon is the season of pouring rain and intense emotions: love and longing, hope and fear, pleasure and pain, devotion and joyous excess. Through a series of evocative essays exploring rain-drenched worlds of poetry, songs, paintings, architecture, films, gardens, festivals, music, and medicine, this lavishly illustrated collection examines the history of monsoon feelings in South Asia from the twelfth century to the present. Each essay is written by a specialist in the field of South Asian arts and culture, and investigates emotions as reflections and agents of social, cultural, and political change across borders of language and religion and between different arts and cultural practices. This history of emotions in the rain is as rich, surprising, beautiful and devastating as the thundering monsoon clouds, and will delight general and scholarly audiences alike.

Contents: Note on Transliteration; Monsoon Feelings: Introduction - Imke Rajamani; The Spring of Hindustan : Love and War in the Monsoon in Indo-Persian Poetry - Sunil Sharma; A Theology of Feeling: The Radhavallabhi Monsoon in the Eighteenth Century - Richard David Williams; Clouds, Cuckoos and an Empty Bed: Emotions in Hindi-Urdu Barahmasas - Francesca Orsini; Dark, Overwhelming, yet Joyful: The Monsoon in Rajput Painting - Molly Emma Aitken; It is a Day for Enjoyment and Revelry : The Monsoon Garden - Catherine B. Asher; Delight, Devotion and the Music of the Monsoon at the Court of Emperor Shah Alam II - David Lunn and Katherine Butler Schofield; The Cuckoo's Song: Imagery and Movement in Monsoon Ragas - Laura Leante; Rimjhim ke Taraane Leke Aayi Barsaat : Songs of Love and Longing in the Bombay Rain - Rachel Dwyer; Hindi Cinema's Rainmaking Formula: Thodasa Roomani Ho Jaayen and Lagaan - Imke Rajamani; The Most Dangerous Season of All : Monsoon in Unani Medical Writings - Claudia Preckell Celebrating Monsoon Feelings: The Flower-Sellers Festival of Delhi - Margrit Pernau; Coda. A Meeting of Earth and Sky: The Monsoon in the Repertoire of Thumri - Vidya Rao; Authors' Biographies; Glossary; List of Figures; Bibliography; Filmography; Acknowledgements; Index.

English Afrikaans Arabic Chinese (Simplified) Chinese (Traditional) Dutch Filipino French German Hindi Indonesian Italian Japanese Korean Malay Persian Portuguese Russian Spanish Swahili Swedish Thai Turkish Urdu Vietnamese


Jay Inslee Tells Hayes That He Wants To Gut The Filibuster To Fight Climate Change
Washington Governor Jay Inslee is running for president on the single issue of climate change and argues that doing…
Causes and Effects of Climate Change
by National Geographic
What causes climate change (also known as global warming)? And what are the effects of climate change? Learn the human…
Extreme Weather and Global Warming
by NASA Goddard
Is the frequency of extreme weather events a sign that global warming is gaining pace and exceeding predictions? Bill…
Thanks to Climate Change, Wet Winters No Match for Drier California Summers
by KPIX CBS SF Bay Area
If the emerald-green hills around Northern California have you thinking recent rains have put a damper on the fire…
Climate Change Is Not One Issue
"Climate change is not one issue," said David Wallace-Wells, author of "The Uninhabitable Earth," but is…
The Heat: Climate change
by CGTN America
Images gathered by NASA show an increase in foliage in China and India. The greening effect is mainly due to ambitious…
No company is doing enough to combat climate change: Jeremy Grantham
by CNBC Television
Jeremy Grantham, co-founder of GMO, on climate change and what needs to be done to combat it.
Power Plants Are POISONING Groundwater All Over America
by The Ring of Fire
According to a new report, 90% of coal-fired power plants across the country have completely contaminated the…


Default Image
Come on, UK weather forecasters – tell it like it is on climate change
by Adam Corner
They have a national reach that most climate campaigners would die for. They are familiar and respected experts on the…
Green New Deal: 6 places already reducing emissions from buildings
Green New Deal: 6 places already reducing emissions from buildings
by David Roberts
One of the elements of the Green New Deal resolution that has caused the most consternation among critics on the right…
Default Image
UK environmentalists target Barclays in fossil fuels campaign
by Matthew Taylor
A UK-wide campaign is being launched to persuade one of the country’s biggest high street banks to stop investing…
Oceanic carbon uptake could falter
Oceanic carbon uptake could falter
by Tim Radford
What does oceanic carbon uptake achieve? Greenhouse gas that sinks below the waves slows global warming a little and…
Britain (Yes, Rainy Britain) Could Run Short of Water by 2050, Official Says
Britain (Yes, Rainy Britain) Could Run Short of Water by 2050, Official Says
by Global Warming & Climate Change
“Climate change plus growth equals an existential threat,” Mr. Bevan said. To avoid severe water shortages, he added,…
Default Image
Record high US temperatures outpace record lows two to one, study finds
by Associated Press
Over the past 20 years, Americans have been twice as likely to sweat through record-breaking heat rather than shiver…
Climate change: Water shortages in England 'within 25 years'
Climate change: Water shortages in England 'within 25 years'
by BBC News - Science & Environment
Image copyright PA Image caption Low water levels at Wayoh Reservoir near Bolton in the UK heatwave in July 2018 Within…
Default Image
Why you'll never meet a white supremacist who cares about climate change
by Rebecca Solnit
As the news of the Christchurch mosque massacre broke and I scoured the news, I came across a map showing that the…