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Sizzling Summer, Freezing Winter, Ruinous Storms: Brace for Century of Extreme Weather Conditions

Sizzling Summer, Freezing Winter, Ruinous Storms: Brace for Century of Extreme Weather Conditions

Apart from having the hottest days during the summer, Delhi on December 30 last year, recorded the coldest day of the month in five years with temperature dropping to 2.6 degree Celsius.

On June 10, Delhi witnessed the hottest day of the month ever with temperature soaring at 48 degree Celsius. The previous highest temperature in the capital was recorded on June 9, 2014 at 47.8 degree Celsius – i.e. in the 21st century itself.

Delhi was not the only city to break this sort of a record. On April 30, temperature at Dehri (Bihar) rose to 45.2 degree Celsius against 45 on the same day in 1999. Kandla, Gujarat on April 29 soared at 46.8 degree Celsius against the last extreme of 44.5 degree Celsius on April 27, 1973. New Kandla, Gujarat that broke its previous record on April 19, 2009 broke another on April 28 this year by rising from 42.9 to 45.2 degree Celsius.

Dholpur and Churu – both in Rajasthan – last week recorded the highest temperature ever at 51 degree Celsius. The highest ever temperature recorded earlier in these two places was 50 and 49 degree Celsius in June 1995 and June 2003, respectively.

The last time the mercury at any Indian region touched 51 was on 19 May, 2016 at Phalodi (Rajasthan). The list goes on. The frequency of instances of extreme conditions has been on a rise in the recent past.

The Indian Meteorological Department maintains data of over 400 stations spread across the country, geographically covering all parts from late 1800s till now. News18.com analysis of the record of extreme temperatures revealed that the average rate of yearly instances of marking extreme temperatures has grown exponentially in the 21st century as compared to the last two.

In the 21st century, the average annual instances of recording maximum temperature has increased by about four folds as compared to the 20th century and over 21 times from the 19th century; while that for recording minimum temperature has almost doubled as compared to the last century and increased by over 12 times as compared to the one before that.

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Similar is the case with heavy rainfalls. Increase in the temperature of land adds to the water vapour in the atmosphere that further leads to downpour. The average instances of recording heaviest rainfall for a day have also almost doubled as compared to the last century and by over 17 times from that recorded in the 19th century.

There are also cases when cities have broken records for being both the hottest and coldest days, in different seasons. Apart from having the hottest days during the summer, Delhi on December 30 last year, recorded the coldest day of the month in five years with temperature dropping to 2.6 degree Celsius.

Sunil Dhaiya, campaigner with the Global Air Pollution unit of Greenpeace India, a non-profit organisation working on climate issues, blames this phenomenon on climate change.

IMD’s Annual Climate Summary stated that for 2018, it was the sixth warmest year since 1901. The annual mean temperature for the country was “+0.40 degree Celsius above the 1981-2010 average”. This accounted from higher mean temperature during the winters – fifth warmest since 1901, pre-monsoon season, monsoon – tenth warmest, and the post monsoon season – thirteenth warmest.

The other nine warmest years on record in order were: 2016 , 2009, 2017, 2010, 2015, 1958, 2002, 2014, 2006 – all in the 21st century. In fact, as the report stressed, 11 of the 15 warmest years were from the recent past years: 2004-2018. It also added that the past two decades – 2001-2010 and 2009-2018 – have been the warmest decades with anomalies 0.23 degree Celsius and 0.38 Celsius, respectively.

In India, heat wave is considered when actual maximum temperature is above 45 degree Celsius in the plains, above 37 degree Celsius in coastal regions and over 30 degree Celsius in hilly regions for two consecutive days.

The heat wave condition generally persists for two days. The IMD data did not categorise the stations, however, the analysis shows that about 112 regions have broken their previous record to cross the mark of 45 degree Celsius in the previous decade (2001-2010). In contrast, 485 regions had broken their previous records to cross the mark in 100 years (1901-2000); accounting to an annual rate of 4.85 such instances of broken records against that of 11.2 for 2001-10.

“The extremes are increasing including the spikes in rainfall, even though the effect on the average is there but perhaps less pronounced. The general effect of all this makes weather extremely unpredictable which is not good for an economy that relies a lot on weather-dependent activities such as agriculture,” Tarun Gopalakrishnan, climate policy researcher with the Centre for Science and Environment, tells News18.

On the impact on the agrarian economy of India, Gopalakrishnan explains, “Agriculture in our country is not completely technology-driven, but driven by traditional knowledge built-up over decades or possibly centuries.

The current weather trend is disrupting this knowledge system. It is becoming increasingly difficult by even the skilled farmers — who completely depend on weather — to predict when the first rain will arrive, when is the optimal time for sowing etc.

Slowly, the traditional knowledge is being replaced by IMD, agro-meteorology services which are trying to push the weather data to the farmers. But, it is still a developing process. Those forecasts are not perfect. We may have to make up for the increasing unpredictability through technological solutions that are affordable to even subsistence farmers, which is another challenge.”

Another worrying sign came from the statistical review of world energy till 2018 released by BP, an international oil and gas company. The report reveals that the global energy demand and carbon emissions from energy grew at their fastest rate since 2010-11, moving further away from the accelerated transition predicted by the Paris climate pact. India was among the top three countries accounting in 15 percent of the growth in energy demand.

BP attributed the growth to such ‘unusual’ weather for large number of days when “families and businesses increased their demand for cooling and heating”. Calling it as an “unsustainable path”, the report doubts if the growth in energy demands and the carbon emission will fall in line with the Paris climate goals.

The reduction in reliance on coal is part of the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP), the five-year action plan to reduce carbon emissions. However, despite a strong growth in renewable energy in India in the past few years, the increase in the energy demand has led to the bouncing back of coal production in 2018.

Dhaiya warns, “It’s a climate emergency which we are facing and we have to respond by moving away from polluting and climate damaging fossil fuels.”