10 Jun 2024

Weather: India Sets Record for Longest Heat Wave; Are More Severe Conditions Expected in Future?

New Delhi: India is experiencing its longest recorded heat wave, according to the country's leading meteorologist. The intense heat, gripping parts of northern India since mid-May, has seen temperatures soar above 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit).

"This has been the longest spell because it has lasted about 24 days in different parts of the country," stated Mrutyunjay Mohapatra, head of India's Meteorological Department (IMD).

The heat wave is expected to abate as the annual monsoon rains advance northward this month. However, Mohapatra warned that future heat waves will likely be more frequent, prolonged, and severe if preventive measures are not taken.

India, the world's third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, aims to achieve net zero emissions by 2070, two decades later than most industrialized nations. Currently, the country relies heavily on coal for power generation.

"Human activities, population growth, industrialization, and transportation are increasing the concentration of carbon monoxide, methane, and chlorocarbons," Mohapatra explained. "We are endangering not only ourselves but also future generations."

Heat stress can lead to long-term health issues 

It is not just crop harvests that will bear the brunt, as heat waves affect infrastructure, ecosystems and human health. We do know that heat stress can lead to long-term health issues such as cardiovascular diseases, kidney failure, respiratory distress and liver failure, though we will be unable to know exactly how many people will die in this heatwave due to the lack of necessary health data from India and Pakistan.

Climate change is making heat waves longer

Scientific studies indicate that climate change is making heat waves longer, more frequent, and more intense. The recent heat wave saw temperatures in New Delhi reach 49.2C (120.5F), matching the capital's previous record high set in 2022.

As residents sought relief, the electricity grid struggled under a record peak power demand of 8,302 megawatts. On May 29, an automatic weather station in Mungeshpur, a suburb of Delhi, recorded a high of 52.9C (127.2F), later found to be due to a faulty sensor. Elsewhere in Delhi, 17 other stations recorded maximum temperatures of 49C (120.2F) the same day.

"We formed an expert committee to observe readings over the next two days and confirmed the sensor was faulty," Mr. Mohapatra noted. "We inspect the AWS (automatic weather stations) every six months, but birds or monkeys can sometimes disturb the sensors in between inspections."

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