Never-before-seen high temperatures and high humidity are resulting in thousands of heat injuries and hundreds of heat deaths across India. In some places, wet bulb readings appear to be approaching 35 C — a level of latent heat never endured by humans before fossil fuel burning forced global temperatures to rapidly warm. A reading widely-recognized as the limit of human physical endurance and one whose more frequent excession would commit the human race to enduring an increasing number of episodes of killing heat. A boundary that scientists like Dr. James Hansen warned would be exceeded if a human-forced warming of the world was not halted.
And it is in this newly dangerous climate context that temperatures near 125 degrees Fahrenheit settled in over India’s border region with Pakistan yesterday. A blistering wave of crippling heat hitting never-before-seen readings over that highly-populated nation. In Phalodi, India, the mercury rocketed to 123.8 degrees Fahrenheit (51 degrees Celsius). This reading exceeded India’s previous all-time record high for any location which stood at 123.1 degrees Fahrenheit (50.6 degrees Celsius) set on May 25, 1886. Across the border in Pakistan, temperatures crossed “critical” thresholds this week, hitting 124.7 degrees Fahrenheit (51.5 degrees Celsius) Thursday in the city of Jacobabad as officials in that state issued health warnings to the public.
(Temperatures rocketed to 123-125 F along India’s border with Pakistan on Thursday. These are the hottest temperatures ever recorded for this region of the world. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)
Closer to the coast, temperatures rose as high as 107 degrees Fahrenheit (42 C). In the city of Surat, hospitals were strained by an influx of people suffering from heat injuries. People afflicted with giddiness, unconsciousness, dehydration, a bloody nose, abdominal pain, chest pain, and other heat related injuries flooded local health care facilities with emergency calls. As of Thursday, SMIMER hospital had reported 1,226 calls related to heat casualties since the start of May.
Local Surat weather services reported periods when temperatures spiked to 38-42 C and humidity — supplied by moisture flooding off the heating Arabian Sea — remained near 65 percent. These are wet bulb readings in the range of 32 to 34.4 C — a combination of heat and humidity that is very dangerous to anyone exposed for even brief periods.
340 Heat Deaths in Dehli
Across India, the story of heat casualties was much the same. Though no official national estimate of heat related injuries or deaths has yet been given, the current heatwave and related drought is far worse than that experienced during 2015 when 2500 people lost their lives in the excessive heat. But it’s reasonable to assume that heat injuries across India now number in the tens of thousands with tragic heat deaths likely now numbering in the hundreds to thousands.
In the capital city of Delhi, reports were coming in that the homeless population — swelled by farmers who lost their livelihoods due to a crippling three-year-drought — was suffering hundreds of heat-related deaths. As of Thursday, official estimates identified 340 total heat deaths among this increasingly vulnerable population.
Severe Drought and Record Heat — Conditions Consistent with Human-Caused Climate Change
Heat building into extreme record ranges and mounting heat casualties come as India suffers what is likely its worst drought on record. Last month, international water monitors identified 330 million people suffering from water shortages across India. As a result, the government has been forced to resort to extreme measures — posting guards at dwindling reservoirs, sending water trains to provide people in hard-hit regions with a life-saving ration of water, and planning to divert water from the greatly shrunken Ganges to aid parched regions.
Extreme heat of this kind, wet bulb temperatures approaching 35 C, heatwave mass casualties, and a never-before-seen drought are all conditions related to a human-forced warming of the globe. Though El Nino, during the 20th Century, brought with it a cyclical heat, a potential monsoonal weakening, and an increased risk of drought, the severity of the crisis now afflicting India is too great to be pinned on El Nino alone. India has now suffered three years of delayed monsoons — delays which began before the current El Nino took hold. Water levels in the Himalayas are low due to a decadal warming that has forced snow packs to retreat which has, in its turn, left India’s rivers increasingly vulnerable to drying. And global temperatures hitting in the range of 1.3 C above 1880s levels are absolutely adding intensity to the current heatwave and dryness.
Hat Tip to DT Lange
Hat Tip to Colorado Bob