The heat wave in May that killed more than 2,200 people, most of them in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, was preceded by the freak rain and flooding in Kashmir, and unseasonal rain and hailstorms in several parts of the country which adversely affected the rabi crop.
What’s happening to the weather?
The heat wave began on May 21 and continued unabated, with temperatures in many regions exceeding 45 °C and reaching 47-48 °C and beyond. Even the mountain town of Mussoorie close to Nepal, 2,010 meters above sea level, recorded 36 °C this year.
Relief was expected from the monsoon, predicted to make landfall in the southern state of Kerala on May 30 or 31, but delayed by four-five days. As if this was not enough, the India Meteorological Department downgraded its June-September monsoon forecast from 93% to 88%, stoking fears of drought.
Indian scientists are extremely cautious about blaming climate change, but scientists across the globe seem to agree now that although no single extreme weather event could be attributed to climate change, the increased frequency and intensity of such events is definitely because of human-made climate change.
A recent paper published in Nature Climate Change finds that the observed average global warming of 0.85°C is responsible for 75 per cent of the daily heat extremes and 18 per cent of the precipitation extremes. More worrying is the conclusion that as the temperature increases to 2°C—which is likely, given the lack of global effort in cutting greenhouse gas emissions—40 per cent of the rainfall extremes will be linked to human-made climate change.
The Indian monsoon is the most understudied and least understood of all weather phenomena. Now climate change is making it even more difficult to read.
Monsoon, simply put, is the movement of water from over the oceans to the subcontinental landmass due to temperature difference – the ocean is cooler and land is warmer. Now research shows the contrast is weakening with the oceans warming and the landmass showing signs of suppressed warming.
If this continues the land would not pull water-laden winds from the oceans as strongly as before. Also, it is feared that warming climate could cause the atmosphere to hold more moisture, which could result in more extreme rain. So, it is not clear if it will rain less or more.
The moot question is how long do we continue to deny these weird weather changes that will have potentially catastrophic impacts on our lives?