Heatwave Mass Casualties Strike India in April Amidst Severe Drought, Water Shortages

Loss of water from snow melt in the Himalayas, increasing temperatures and instances of drought over the food-producing plains, and a potential endemic weakening of the annual monsoonal rains. These are all climate change related impacts that appear to be settling in over India as global temperatures consistently begin to hit levels higher than 1 C above 1880s values. Impacts that are setting up conditions for sustained and increasingly severe droughts and heatwaves.

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Yesterday, temperatures rocketed to 114.44 degrees Fahrenheit (or 45.8 degrees Celsius) in Bhubaneshwar, the capital of Odisha, on the Indian east coast. It was the hottest April reading ever recorded for a region that typically sees daily highs in the upper 90s this time of year. A level of heat that’s excessive even for this typically warm region.

India Heatwave

(Most of India baked under a severe heatwave yesterday [April 11] as the number of lives lost to heat stroke mounted and a water train was dispatched to far-flung drought-stricken regions. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Bhubaneshwar, however, was just one of many locations experiencing temperatures above 110 Degrees (F) yesterday. For a broad heatwave and a related severe drought has sprawled over much of India throughout early April — hitting a peak intensity for many locations this week. Heat so intense that it had already resulted in the tragic loss of more than 110 lives due to heat stroke by April 9th.

India’s Two Year Drought

The drought itself is an ongoing feature — one that has lasted now for two years in many provinces as abnormally high temperatures and reduced monsoonal rains have produced severe and widespread impacts. In total, 10 of India’s 29 states are now suffering under drought conditions. Some locations, like the Maharashtra town of Latur, east of  Mumbai, are experiencing water shortages so severe that Indian officials have dispatched a drought relief train — containing a half a million liters of water — to provide aid. For hardest hit areas, the situation is so dire that riots are now a risk — prompting authorities to outlaw gatherings of more than 5 people near some water distribution sites. Maharashtra itself is experiencing some of the most severe losses with reports indicating that reservoirs there are at less than 5 percent capacity. Average capacity for all reservoirs throughout India amounted to just 29 percent by the end of March — and the annual monsoonal rains are still at least two months away.

Overall impacts are quite widespread. Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand has declared a water emergency. And the Ganges River is now so low that it is unable to provide water to cool one of the largest coal-fired electrical power stations in West Bengal — forcing it to suspend operations.The great river is dramatically shrunken — causing islands of mud to emerge even as pollutants concentrate in its thinning thread. A diminishing flow that India’s 1.3 billion people rely on for much of their water. It’s a greater crisis so extreme that late last month one of BBC’s India correspondents asked — is this the worst water crisis India has ever faced?

Such broad-ranging and long-lasting drought has hit India’s farmers hard. Last year, more than 3,500 farmers committed suicide after facing some of the worst conditions ever to strike India. This year, the situation is arguably even worse — forcing some desperate regions to consider cloud seeding as a means of possible drought alleviation.

Stronger Monsoon for 2016? Or Will A Warming Globe Dim India’s Hopes For Rain?

Reports from India’s Meteorological Division have called for a normal to above normal monsoon to provide replenishing rains this year. However, monsoonal predictions over the past two years were overly optimistic, which is cause for caution over last week’s forecast.

Overall, the early extreme record heat and drought over India provides a barrier to any influx of monsoonal moisture. In addition, El Nino conditions — possibly hanging on in the Central Pacific through June — may help to dull or delay monsoonal development even as a predicted progression to La Nina later in the year provides some hope for additional moisture during late Summer and Fall. A switch to rains that may well be quite intense for some regions given the unprecedented atmospheric moisture content as a result of record high global temperatures.

Longer-term, there are growing indications that climate change is starting to impact India’s breadbasket. Record high temperatures over the Gangetic Plain — India’s productive farming region south of the Himalayas — are starting to take hold as a result of a human-forced warming of the globe. A condition that IPCC reports indicate could decimate (reduce by ten percent) wheat, corn, soy and sorghum yields over the coming years. So even as a shift to La Nina provides some hope for an alleviation of India’s current drought woes later in 2016, the larger trend is for an increasing prevalence of drought and extreme heat as a reckless fossil fuel emission continues to force the globe to warm.

Links:

India Scrambles to Alleviate Severe Drought

Is India Facing its Worst-Ever Water Crisis?

Water Train Reaches Latur

Heatwave Claims 111 Lives in India

India Meteorological Division

With Months to Go For Rains, this is the Drought Map of India

Earth Nullschool

Drought, El Nino and a Weak Monsoon Conspire to Hit Indian Farmers

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to TodaysGuestIs

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43 Comments

  1. climatehawk1

     /  April 12, 2016

    Retweeted.

    Reply
  2. wili

     /  April 12, 2016

    Any news on what the Wet Bulb Temperatures were?

    (For those unfamiliar with the term: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wet-bulb_temperature )

    Reply
    • I didn’t catch the combined temperature, pressure and humidity readings. I heard rumor that we had 114 F conditions and 90 percent humidity. But that’s practically impossible as it would be a wet bulb reading above 47 C.

      Reply
      • Wharf Rat

         /  April 12, 2016

        According to IMD data, as many as 17 places in the state had recorded temperatures of above 40 degrees by 2 PM.
        Chandbali on the coast recorded a high of 44.4 degrees while the coal town of Talcher saw the mercury touch 43.8 degrees. The maximum at Jharsuguda and Sundargarh was 43.5 degrees.
        The relative humidity level in Bhubaneswar went up to 90 per cent, making for sultry conditions that forced most people to remain indoors.
        http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bhubaneswar/Bhubaneswar-sizzles-at-45-8-degress-schools-ordered-shut-till-April-20/articleshow/51783686.cms

        Reply
        • Usually peak heat and peak humidity do not occur at the same time. You need to catch these readings as they occur in the same temporal space in order to get an accurate measure. What we’re probably seeing is wet bulb readings in the low 30s C — which is bad enough. It’s possible we’ve gotten close to 35 C in certain areas.

        • OK, Rat. So I’ve gone back through the data and have found that at times of peak temperature the RH in these regions was in the range of 11 to 14 percent and the atmospheric pressure was in the range of 1000 to 1005 hPa. So what we were looking at during the times of peak temperatures in the range of 41 to 45 C was wet bulb readings of about 22 to 26 C.

          This may seem counter-intuitive, but RH tends to fall as temperature increases. To get higher wet bulb readings you need a higher degree of latent heat and this comes with a higher water vapor content. The land and air mass in these zones has basically been dried in a blast furnace, which a characteristic of the ongoing drought.

  3. Ryan in New England

     /  April 12, 2016
    Reply
  4. Loni

     /  April 12, 2016

    These mega-stressors in heavily populated and well armed countries present serious additional risks.

    Reply
  5. Is India facing its worst-ever water crisis?

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-35888535

    Reply
  6. JPL

     /  April 12, 2016

    Climate Change May Be Causing Earth’s Poles To Shift

    “The researchers wrote in their study that the Earth’s spin axis has been shifting 75-degrees eastward from its normal long-term drift direction since the early 2000s. That shift, they found, is being driven not only by melting ice sheets, but also a loss of water mass in Eurasia due to the depletion of aquifers and drought, according to a NASA release.”

    Reply
  7. Dead coral reefs stir fears of ‘dangerous’ climate change, scientists say

    “It was a horror show,” Baum said. “Rationally I know what’s happened, but emotionally it’s very hard to accept it. It seems like it can’t possibly be real that this vibrant, healthy reef that I’ve been working on so long and studying so intensely — specifically because it was one of the healthiest reefs in the world — that it could just be dramatically transformed in a matter of months into this graveyard.”

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/04/12/why-dead-coral-reefs-stir-fears-of-dangerous-climate-change

    Reply
  8. Ailsa

     /  April 12, 2016

    TransCanada’s Keystone Pipeline Resumes Operations After South Dakota Dilbit Spill

    http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/35601-transcanada-s-keystone-pipeline-resumes-operations-after-south-dakota-dilbit-spill

    ‘The incident has given ammunition to a group appealing the decision by the South Dakota Public Utility Commission (PUC) to re-certify TransCanada’s permit to build the Keystone XL Pipeline, despite President Obama’s denial of a permit needed to cross international borders.’

    Reply
  9. Reblogged this on GarryRogers Nature Conservation and commented:
    Probably another dangerously hot summer ahead.

    Reply
  10. So what happens when the people in India start to die in mass numbers due to heat waves, lack of water and food, like Sudan?

    I just finished watching “Salt of The Earth”…. about Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado… the movie had a section and photos including his time is Sudan where he worked with Doctors Without Boarders…. along with many other things he documented via photographs during his career… It was a wonderful documentary about humanity, it’s tragic flaws and the overwhelming beauty of the earth.. It left me very thoughtful…..

    Reply
  11. Ryan in New England

     /  April 12, 2016

    This global bleaching event is decimating the coral of Kiritimati (Christmas) Atoll. This event is unprecedented in the entire 7,000 year coral record. For thousands of years the coral was fine. And thanks to us, in a single human lifetime we will have destroyed it.

    http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2016/04/12/3768723/coral-bleaching-christmas-atoll/

    Reply
  12. Ryan in New England

     /  April 12, 2016

    Zika virus is “scarier than initially thought.” It seems that the mosquito that carries the virus is far more widespread than thought, and the virus is responsible for more than just microcephaly. It is thought to attack the neurological system, and it isn’t just pregnant women who need to be concerned. I fear the virus will explode across the U.S. this summer.

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2016/04/11/scarier-than-we-initially-thought-cdc-sounds-warning-zika-virus/82894878/

    Reply
    • Mulga Mumblebrain

       /  April 13, 2016

      Zika has been known for years, and, suddenly, now, it becomes so dangerous. Interesting, indeed.

      Reply
      • It was an obscure virus that few people knew anything about due to an overall low infection rate and general low concern from the healthcare community. It wasn’t until infection rates broadened and Barr and Microcephaly cropped up that researchers began taking a closer look and the learning curve on Zika steepened.

        Reply
  13. redskylite

     /  April 12, 2016

    Thanks for highlighting the events in India – I try and keep up with world events, but was sadly ignorant of this, not too well presented by regular news channels. Looks like it’s going to be a tough year in the subcontinent, hope the monsoon helps this year.

    JISAO have just released the PDO index for March 2016 at +2.40 it is the second highest value after 1941. 1941 yielded an exceptionally hot summer, followed by a very cold winter. Now magnified by global warming, I wonder what the Northern Hemisphere is in for this season.

    Reply
  14. – Heat – All is heat in Greenland as it is in India et al. – to wit: fossil fuel heat.
    – Greenland:

    Reply
  15. anitawylie1122@comcast.net

     /  April 13, 2016

    Mr. Scribbler – I am following your posts, which I find to be tremendously informative. I’d like to share them on Facebook, but don’t see a link. Maybe I can figure a wy to post it, or not. Do you have the means to make sharing on Facebook possible?

    Respectfully,

    Anita Wylie Indianapolis

    Reply
    • Warmest regards. And thanks for the kind words, Anita.

      The Facebook tab in the lower portion of the post makes it easy. Otherwise, you can copy and paste the url and Facebook will do the rest.

      Reply
      • There is also a free program (oops, app, I am so old fashioned) called AddThis that will allow you to share any web page in a variety of ways, including Facebook, Twitter, and many others. Just Google to find it. I use Chrome as a browser, and it sits as an icon (a plus sign) near the top of the page.

        Reply
  16. Jimmy

     /  April 13, 2016

    Earth Nullschool has a view called MI or Misery Index. has that anything to do with wetbulb temp?

    Reply
  17. Reply
    • Anthony Sagliani ‏@anthonywx 4h4 hours ago

      Tropical Cyclone Fantala (1-min 80kt) spinning about in the central Indian Ocean. No immediate threat to land.

      Reply
  18. -Peabody Energy Files for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Protection
    Coal company’s filing includes most of U.S. activities, excludes Australian operations

    http://www.wsj.com/articles/peabody-energy-files-for-chapter-11-protection-from-creditors-1460533760

    Reply
  19. CD

     /  April 13, 2016

    Just wanted to say thank you for all the work you do to bring attention to the climate crisis and all its consequences. Without this blog I wouldn’t know about many of these stories even though I read many news sources, including alternative sites.

    Reply

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