When you’re rolling with loaded climate dice the situation, as Indian disaster relief officials stated earlier today, is indeed grim.
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The Earth has been warmed by 1 degree Celsius over the past 135 years due to hundreds of billions of tons of fossil fuels burned. That’s a pace of warming more than 10 times faster than at the end of the last ice age. And with that one degree Celsius of global temperature increase, we get a 7 percent increase in the rate of evaporation and precipitation. Unfortunately, that heat-driven alteration in the hydrological cycle is not even. In some places, where the heat piles high into great atmospheric domes and ridges, we see excessive drought. In other places, the moisture finds a weak spot in the heat and then we see inundation. The ridiculous country-spanning floods that have now become all-too-common.
(The remnants of tropical cylcone Komen combine with a monsoonal flow over India to produce severe storms over Central and Western India on August 4, 2015. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)
Droughts and floods of a severity that we are not at all used to and that have greatly contributed to increasing extreme weather events worldwide. Events that over the past seven years displaced nearly 158 million souls. Sadly, that dread toll of displacement, loss of homes, and loss of lives continued this week in South Asia as a flood of Biblical scale devoured an enormous swath of land.
Drought, Heat Mass Casualties, then Flood
For this summer, the situation in India, Bangladesh and Myanmar has been one of drought and flood combined. Earlier this year, the arrival of monsoonal moisture was delayed by the influence of a powerful heat dome crouched over the region. In India, the high temperatures and humidity were so intense that tens of thousands were hospitalized and thousands lost their lives due to heat stroke. Official reports from the region indicated that a precipitation deficit of 10 to 30 percent or more was in the offing. But that was before the skies, super-charged with moisture through an unprecedented rate of evaporation, opened up.
Last week, a frail but rainfall dense tropical cyclone Komen slammed into the coast of Bangladesh. This storm combined with the heavy load of monsoonal moisture building over the region. These conjoined systems have since dumped from 300 to 1300 millimeters of rainfall (more than four feet of rain for some locations) over a broad region including Bangladesh, Myanmar, and the Bengali state of India. It’s a rainfall amount that measures not in inches and millimeters, but in feet and meters. And when you get that much rain there’s going to be some severe hell to pay.
Worst Flood in 200 Years, 13,000 Villages Under Water, 1.2 Million People Displaced
Heavy monsoonal rains are ‘normal’ for India during this time of year. And, as is typical with media outlets who seem mentally incapable of reporting on the impacts of human-caused climate change and related extreme weather these days, many are attempting to claim that the current epic rainfall in India is somehow part of a typical pattern. Nothing could be further from the truth. For by August 1 (two days before the Bengal rains began to shift westward) the day-on-day piling up of water had amounted to the worst flood experienced in all of 200 years of record keeping for the hardest hit regions.
It’s a media silence that pervaded in the earlier stages of this unfolding disaster. One in which only a trickle of reports hit the net or presses. A silence that led one minor local media outlet to issue this irate statement:
Chandra says media has completely ignored this flooding, including the state’s print media and television news channels. The media are mainly based in the state capital, Imphal. The state government is in total chaos and is completely unprepared to tackle the situation. No higher zone is left within the districts, and people are taking shelter in nearby hill stations.
In other words, the only solution for Bengalis during the first few days of this 200 year or worse flood event was to run to the hills.
(By Saturday, August 1, flood waters had already surged over river banks and inundated areas like Manipur. Now, more than 13,000 villages and in excess of 10 million people have been impacted. Image source: Blaze.)
Since that time, government and mainstream media response has been more widespread, even if most reports have not set the current extreme event in its proper climate change related extreme event context. Regardless of this widespread failure, yesterday, as reports rolled in that more than 11,000 villages had been buried by water in Bengal, the extreme nature of the situation began to settle in. Sparse news coverage indicated that at least a million people had been impacted and that flood refugees were beginning to pour into disaster shelters. By this morning, a more accurate assessment of the full scope of this disaster had been taken. Over 13,000 villages had been flooded out, more than 10 million persons had been impacted, and the official government count for persons huddling in disaster shelters had climbed to 1.2 million souls.
“Rivers in 13 districts are flowing over their danger marks. The situation is grim,” noted disaster management minister Javed Ahmad Khan to AFP.
Lives lost from the flooding have steadily and ominously increased to over 180. But with so many roads and bridges washed out. With so many villages still under water, it will take weeks before a full account is made of this year’s excessively severe flooding.
(Heavy rainfall is now focused over Central India with 125 mm [5 inches] or locally higher amounts centered east of Mumbai and southeast of Dehli. Image source: Monsoon of India.)
Severe rains have since shifted to central portions of India so the hard-hit Bengal region should be able to start picking up the pieces. Now it’s Central India that’s falling under the gun as monsoonal moisture is pumped up into towering thunderstorms by Komen’s circulation and southerly outflow.
Storm Heading Toward Mountains
Over the next few days, the most intense storms associated with Komen’s monsoonal interaction are expected to shift north and west, eventually stalling out over the mountainous regions of Northern India and Pakistan. Such a storm track risks increased rates of rainfall over high mountain glaciers. A weather situation that can dramatically increase glacial ice loss and spike the potential for dangerous glacier outburst flood events.
Hat Tip to Colorado Bob