Duration of Indian Hot Season Nearly Doubles as Crushing Drought and Heat Expand Across the Subcontinent

“It is a drought we have not seen in 110 years. Extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and it is due to global climate change.” — S. Thirunavukkarasu, a retired Tamil Nadu Public Works official.

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For India, the hot-season-like temperatures began in late February — two months earlier than usual. After a brief respite, they fired again in March, bringing April-like temperatures a month too soon. The hot season for this region typically begins in mid-April and extends through mid-June. In 2017, hot-season conditions sparked in late February. Today, life-threatening temperatures of between 100 and 115 F blanket much of this vast, densely populated land.

The early onset of heat comes after years of expanding drought, warming temperatures, melting glaciers and drying rivers, bringing with it a deepening hardship. Farmers across the country report a sense of deepening desperation as cries for help in the form of nationwide protests break out. Meanwhile, those working outdoors increasingly suffer from heat- and dehydration-related kidney failure. This year, conditions that threaten heat injury and loss of life have spurred schools across the country to close early.

(GFS model runs indicate temperatures in excess of 47 C or 115 F over parts of India tomorrow, April 22nd. Meanwhile, forecasters predict that 50 C or 122 F readings are possible in the coming days and weeks. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

In two southern provinces, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the situation is one of extreme drought. In Kerala, water stress has now reached an intensity not seen in all of the past 115 years. Tamil Nadu’s own drought crisis is the worst in 110 years. And in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana, the situation is nearly as calamitous (see map of India’s provinces here).

Retired Tamil Nadu public works official S. Thirunavukkarasu recently noted:

“It is a drought we have not seen in 110 years. Extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and it is due to global climate change. We may see a repeat of 2015 [floods] next year or the rains may fail again like they did in 2016. We cannot figure the weather out. But we need to ensure that we are prepared.”

Throughout the region and over other parts of India, residents are relying on ground water or water supply trucks as lakes and rivers run dry. Ground water supplies are being drawn down at an alarming rate. Water depths that should comfortably sit at 2-3 meters underground have been driven back to 8-15 meters or more. In some locations, wells are being driven as deep as 80 to 90 meters in search of water.

(Though southern India and Sri Lanka are hardest hit, long-term drought is impacting nearly all of India. Image source: NOAA.)

It’s a water crisis that is wide-ranging — impacting both rural locales and population centers like Delhi. Public officials are being forced to divert water from construction and other industries in order to ensure that residents receive access to life-giving supplies.

As with last year, reports are trickling in that tens of millions of people across India are experiencing water stress. Two years of delayed monsoons and severe hot seasons have already left the country reeling. This year’s extended hot season adds insult to injury. And with Pacific Ocean surface temperatures in the Equatorial region tracking above average for this time of year, it is again uncertain that present assurances of a ‘normal monsoon season’ will bear out.

Cyclical droughts and heatwaves are normal for India. What is not normal is the present situation of continuously worsening conditions. These ever-intensifying droughts and heatwaves are being driven by a global warming primarily brought on by fossil fuel burning. And, in the end, relief for India will only come when the warming ceases.

Links:

Five States Face Drought Made Worse by Early Onset of Summer

NOAA

Earth Nullschool

One-Third of Indian Population Stares at Drought This Summer

Delhi on the Verge of Groundwater Crisis

Capital City Reels Under Severe Water Shortage

Heatwave Across North, Central and Western India

The Indian Hot Season Began Two Months Early This Year

India Already Facing Water Shortages Ahead of Dry Season

Spring in India can be a rough time for farmers in a warming world.

The vast, flat lands that compose much of India depend on waters flowing down from snow melting in the Himalayas. And a reliable influx of moisture in the form of the Southeast Asian Monsoon is a much-needed backstop to the heat and dryness of April, May, and early June.

But the warming of our world through fossil fuel burning and related greenhouse gas emissions is causing the glaciers of the Himalayas to melt. It is causing temperatures during spring to increase — which more rapidly dries the rivers and wells of India’s plains. It is creating a hot, dry atmospheric barrier that increasingly delays the onset of India’s monsoon. And since the 1950s India’s rainfall rates have been decreasing.

(NOAA rainfall anomaly map for the past six months showing a severe deficit for southern India. With April, May, and June being India’s hottest, driest months, and with climate change producing a worsening water security situation for the state, the risk for yet one more serious water crisis emerging over the coming weeks is high. Image source: NOAA CPC.)

All of these effects are related to human-caused climate change. However, what since the mid-20th Century had been a steadily worsening state of affairs has, over recent years, tipped into a more difficult to manage set of events.

During 2015, a delayed monsoon resulted in India receiving about 14 percent less rain than expected. During 2016, severe heatwaves exacerbated a drought that put 330 million people under water rationing. The 2016 monsoons finally halted this severe water crisis. But underlying shortages persisted through March of 2017.

Today, sections of South India in a region with a combined population of about 145 million continue to see severe water stress. The state of Kerala is experiencing its worst drought in over a Century. Tamil Nadu, which slipped into drought on January 10th, now shows all 32 districts reporting water shortages. And in Karnataka, reservoir levels have now dipped below 20 percent as almost all districts were reporting drought conditions. Farmer suicides from these regions remained high throughout the year. And reports indicate that inability to grow staple crops in these regions has resulted in reports of people relying on eating rats for food.

(Sea surface temperature anomaly map by Earth Nullschool. Warm sea surface temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific can help to delay India’s monsoon — extending the hot, dry period of April, May and June. This year, NOAA predicts that a weak to moderate El Nino may form which would further exacerbate climate change driven water stresses in India.)

These are tough conditions. But the worst may be yet to come for 2017.

April, May and June is the hottest, driest period for India. And the state is entering this season with almost a 150 million people already facing water stress. Moreover, the warming of Equatorial waters in the Pacific as another El Nino is again expected to emerge increases the risk that the 2017 monsoon could be delayed or weakened. So with a water crisis now ongoing in the south, conditions are likely set to worsen soon.

Links:

Farmers Despair Amid Low Rainfall

Climate Change Key Suspect in Case of India’s Disappearing Ground Water

India Drought Affecting 330 Million People After Two Weak Monsoons

NOAA CPC

Earth Nullschool

Himalayan Glaciers are Melting More Rapidly

With Temperatures Hitting 1.2 C Hotter than Pre-Industrial, Drought Now Spans the Globe

Jeff Goodell, an American author and editor at Rolling Stone, is noted for saying this: “once we deliberately start messing with the climate, we could inadvertantly shift rainfall patterns (climate models have shown that the Amazon is particularly vulnerable) causing collapse of ecosystems, drought, famine and more.”

We are in the process of testing that theory. In the case of drought, which used to just be a regional affair but has now gone global, Goodell appears to have been right on the money.

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According to a recent report by the World Meteorological Organization, the Earth is on track to hit 1.2 degrees Celsius hotter than pre-industrial temperatures during 2016. From sea-level rise, to melting polar ice, to extreme weather, to increasing numbers of displaced persons, this temperature jump is producing steadily worsening impacts. Among the more vivid of these is the current extent of global drought.

The Four-Year Global Drought

During El Nino years, drought conditions tend to expand through various regions as ocean surfaces heat up. From 2015 to 2016, the world experienced a powerful El Nino. However, despite the noted influence of this warming of surface waters in the Equatorial Pacific, widely expansive global drought extends back through 2013 and farther.

four-year-precipitation-anomalies-updated

(The Global Drought Monitor finds that dry conditions have been prevalent over much of the globe throughout the past four years. For some regions, like the Colorado River area, drought has already extended for more than a decade. Image source: SPEI Global Drought Monitor.)

In the above image, we see soil moisture deficits over the past 48 months. What we find is that large sections of pretty much every major continent are undergoing at least a four-year drought. Drought conditions were predicted by climate models to intensify in the middle latitudes as the world heated up. It appears that this is already the case, but the Equatorial zone and the higher latitudes are also experiencing widespread drought. If there is a detectable pattern in present conditions, it is that few regions have avoided drying. Drought is so wide-ranging as to be practically global in its extent.

Widespread Severe Impacts

These drought conditions have noted impacts.

In California alone, more than 102 million trees have died due to rising temperatures and a drought that has lasted since 2010. Of those, 62 million have perished just this year. Drought’s relationship to tree mortality is pretty simple — the longer drought lasts, the more trees perish as water stores in roots are used up. California has, so far, lost 2.5 percent of its live trees due to what is now the worst tree mortality event in the state’s history.

world-vegetative-health-index

(It’s not just California. Numerous regions around the world show plants undergoing life-threatening levels of stress. In the above map, vegetative health is shown to be moderately stressed [yellow] to severely stressed [pink] over broad regions of the world. Image source: Global Drought Information System.)

The California drought is just an aspect of a larger drought that encompasses much of the North American West. For the Colorado River area, this includes a 16-year-long drought that has pushed Lake Mead to its lowest levels ever recorded. With rationing of the river’s water supplies looming if a miraculous break in the drought doesn’t suddenly appear, states are scrambling to figure out how to manage a worsening scarcity. Meanwhile, reports indicate that cities like Phoenix will require executive action on the part of the President to ensure water supplies to millions of residents over the coming years, should conditions fail to improve.

Further east, drought has flickered on and off in the central and southern U.S. In the southeast, a flash drought has recently helped to spur an unseasonable spate of wildfires over the Smoky Mountain region. Yesterday, at Gaitlinburg, TN, raging flames fed by winds ahead of a cold front forced 14,000 people to evacuate, damaged or destroyed 100 homes, and took three lives.

siberian-wildfires-july-2016

(Siberian wildfires burning on July 23, 2016 occur in the context of severe drought. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

In the upper northern latitudes, the primary upshot of drought has also been wildfires. Wildfires are often fanned by heat and drought in heavily forested regions that see reduced soil moisture levels. Thawing permafrost and reduced snow cover levels exacerbate the situation by further reducing moisture storage in dry regions and by adding peat-like fuels for fires.

From Alaska to Canada to Siberia, this has increasingly been the case. Last year, Alaska experienced one of its worst wildfire seasons on record. This year, both heat and drought contributed to the severe fires raging around the Fort McMurray region in Canada. And over recent years, wildfires running through a tremendously dry Siberia have been so extreme that satellites orbiting one million miles away could detect the smoke plumes.

Drought and wildfires in or near the Arctic justifiably seem odd, but when one considers the fact that many climate models had predicted that the higher northern latitudes would be one of the few major regions to experience increases in precipitation, that oddity turns ominous. If the present trend toward widespread Arctic drought is representative, then warming presents a drought issue from Equator to Pole.

A dwindling Lake Baikal — which feeds on water flowing in from rain and snow in Central Siberia — bears grim testament to an expanding drought over central and northern Russia. Lake Baikal, the world’s deepest and oldest lake, is threatened by climate change-related drying of the lands that drain into it. In 2015, water levels in Baikal hit record-low levels, and over the past few years, fires raging around the lake have increasingly endangered local communities and wildlife.

To the south and west, the Gansu province of China was placed under a level 4 drought alert this past summerThere, large swaths of crops were lost; half a billion dollars in damages mounted. The Chinese government rushed aid to 6.2 million affected residents, trucking potable water into regions rendered bereft of local supplies.

india-drought-baked-and-bleached-riverbeds

(Lakes and river beds dried up across India earlier this year as the monsoon was delayed for the third year in a row. Image source: India Water Portal.)

India this year experienced similar, but far more widespread, water shortages. In April, 330 million people within India experienced water stress. Water resupply trains wound through the countryside, delivering bottles of potable liquid to residents who’d lost access. A return of India’s monsoon provided some relief, but drought in India and Tibet’s highlands remains in place as glaciers shrink in the warming air.

Africa has recently seen various food crises crop up as wildfires raged through its equatorial forests. Stresses to humans, plants, and animals due to dryness, water and food shortage, and fires have been notably severe. Earlier this year, 36 million people across Africa faced hunger due to drought-related impacts. Nearer term, South Africa has been forced to cull hippo and buffalo herds as a multi-year drought continues there.

Shifting north into Europe, we also find widespread and expanding drought conditions. This situation is not unexpected for Southern Europe, where global climate models show incursions of desert climates from across the Mediterranean. But as with northern Russia and North America, Northern Europe is also experiencing drought. These droughts across Europe helped to spark severe wildfires in Portugal and Spain in the summer, as corn yields for the region are predicted to fall.

drought-wildfires-peru

(During November, drought spurred wildfires that erupted along the Amazon Rainforest’s boundary zone in Peru. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

Finally finding our way back into the Americas, we see widespread drought conditions covering much of Brazil and Columbia, winding down the Andes Mountains through Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. In sections of the increasingly clear-cut and fire-stricken Amazon Rainforest and running on into northeastern Brazil, drought conditions have now lasted for five years. There, half of the region’s cities face water rationing and more than 20 million people are currently confronted with water stress. From September to November 2015, more than 100,000 acres of drought-stricken Amazonian rainforest has burned in Peru. Meanwhile, Bolivia has seen its second-largest lake dry up and critical water-supplying glaciers melt as hundreds of thousands of people fall under water rationing.

Impacts to Food

Ongoing drought and extreme weather have created local impacts to food supplies in various regions. However, these impacts have not yet seriously affected global food markets. Drought in Brazil and India, for example, has significantly impacted sugar production, which in turn is pushing global food prices higher. Cereal production is a bit off which is also resulting in higher prices, though not the big jumps we see in sugar. But a Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) Index for October of 2016 (173 approx) at 9 percent higher than last year’s measure for this time of year is still quite a ways off the 229 peak value during 2011 that helped to set off so much unrest around the globe.

food-index

(Rising food prices during 2016 in the face of relatively low energy prices and significant climate-related challenges to farmers is some cause for concern. Image source: FAO.)

That said, with energy prices falling into comparatively low ranges, relatively high (and rising) food prices are some cause for concern. Traditionally, falling energy prices also push food prices lower as production costs drop, but it appears that these gains by farmers are being offset by various environmental and climate impacts. Furthermore, though very widespread, drought appears to have thus far avoided large grain-producing regions like the central U.S., and central and east Asia. So the global food picture, if not entirely rosy, isn’t as bad as it could be.

Conditions in Context — Increasing Evaporation, Melting Glaciers, Less Snow Cover, Shifting Climate Zones

With the world now likely to hit 1.5 C above pre-industrial temperatures over the next 15 to 20 years, overall drought conditions will likely worsen. Higher rates of evaporation are a primary feature of warming, meaning more rain must fall just to keep pace. In addition, loss of glacial ice in various mountain ranges and loss of snow cover in drier Arctic and near-Arctic environments will further reduce river levels and soil moisture. Increasing prevalence of extreme rainfall events versus steady rainfall events will further stress the vegetation that aids in soil moisture capture. Finally, changes to atmospheric circulation due to polar amplification will combine with a poleward movement of climate zones to generally confuse traditional growing seasons. As a result, everything that relies on steady water supplies and predictable weather patterns will face challenges as the world shifts into a state of more obvious climate change.

Links:

Global Drought Monitor

Global Drought Information System

LANCE MODIS

#ThankYouNASA 

India Water Portal

FAO

The World Meteorological Organization

Hat tip to ClimateHawk1

Hat tip to June

Hat tip to Ryan

Hat tip to Griffon

Hat tip to Suzanne

Hat tip to Cate

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Greg

India’s Monsoon is Delayed For Third Year in a Row — Climate Change is Likely Cause

“It has been observed that since 2001, places in northern India, especially in Rajasthan, are witnessing a rising temperature trend every year. The main reason is the excessive … emission of carbon dioxide.” — Laxman Singh Rathore, the director general of the India Meteorological Department.

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The reduction in India’s monsoon rains is a big deal. It generates systemic drought, creates a prevalence for heatwaves, and locally amplifies the impacts of human-caused climate change. For three years now, the Indian monsoon has been delayed. India is experiencing its worst heatwaves ever recorded and water shortages across the country are growing dire. The monsoonal rains are coming, again late. And people across India — residents as well as weather and climate experts — are beginning to wonder if the endemic drought and heat stress will ever end.

Historically, there was only one climate condition known to bring about a delay in India’s Monsoon — El Nino. And last year, a strong El Nino is thought to have contributed both to the Monsoon’s late arrival and to a very severe drought that is now gripping the state. What the 2015 El Nino cannot also account for is the 2014 delay and weakening of monsoonal rains. And during 2016, as India’s monsoon has again been held back by 1-2 weeks, and El Nino is now but a memory, it’s beginning to become quite clear that there’s something else involved in the weakening of India’s annual rains.

Indian Monsoon Delayed Third Year in a Row

India's Monsoon is Delayed Yet Again

(Onset of the Indian Monsoon has been delayed for three years in a row now. A condition likely caused by a human-forced warming of the world and one that is worsening an extreme drought and heatwave situation across the country. Image source: The India Meteorological Department.)

As of today, the eastern edge of the Southeast Asian monsoon had only advanced to the middle of Myanmar. This late progress is two weeks behind the typical advance of the monsoon in this part of the world at this time of year. Further west, the monsoon has extended somewhat futher — only trailing the typical monsoon’s advance by 5 days along the western coast of India.

With La Nina blooming in the Eastern Pacific, there’s no other climatological excuse for this delay. The El Nino influence is mostly gone. And all that’s left is a global climate context in which temperatures have now risen to around 1.3 C hotter than 1880s averages.

Climate Change is Likely Cause

Scientific studies modeling the impacts of human-forced warming have long found that heating the Earth atmosphere resulted in an eventual delay and weakening of the Indian monsoon. A study published last year in Geoscience Frontiers continued this line of study. Global Circulation Model (GCM) runs found that the Indian monsoon was expected to be delayed by 15 days on average during the 21st Century due to human caused climate change. That the amount of precipitation provided by the monsoon would be reduced by about 70 percent. And that the eastern section of the monsoon would tend to be subject to greater delays than the west.

image

(Extreme heat in the range of 45 to 51 degrees Celsius [113 to 124 degrees Fahrenheit] is expected to continue to impact a broad region of Northern India and Eastern Pakistan tomorrow. These temperatures are in record ranges and threaten to again break the all-time hottest temperatures ever recorded in India this week. By now, the onset of monsoonal rains should be taking the edge off a good portion of this heat. But a monsoon apparently delayed by a human forced warming of the world still holds back its cooling loads of moisture. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Delays in the Indian Monsoon result in a loss of precipitation due to the fact that the duration of the event is greatly reduced. Rainfall has to therefore be more intense over a shorter period of time in order to make up for losses. Increasing drought prevalence results in further moisture losses due to a kind of atmospheric heat and dryness barrier that tends to sap storms of precipitation even as they start to form. The net result for India is a prediction of severe moisture loss due to human-caused climate change.

This year’s India monsoonal delay — as with the delay during 2014 — falls into that pattern. And the massive drought that India is now experiencing as a result appears to be emerging from a set of atmospheric conditions that are consistent with human-caused climate change. India’s risk for continued drought and increasingly extreme heatwaves over the coming years is therefore on the rise. And it is yet to be seen if this year’s monsoon will deliver the hoped-for and desperately-needed relief. Already, the rain-bearing storm system is lagging. And that’s not a good sign.

Links:

The Effects of Climate Change on the Seasonal Monsoon in Asia

Earth Nullschool

The India Meteorological Department

India’s Heatwave Breaks Records

The Fires of Climate Change are Burning the Himalayas

It’s the highest mountain range in the world. Featuring peaks that scrape the sky, dwindling glaciers, and lush forests, these gentle giants are essential to the prosperity and stability of one of Asia’s greatest lands. For rainwater and glacial melt flowing out of the Himalayas feeds the rivers that are the very life-blood of India and her 1.25 billion people.

A major fire in the forests at Ahirikot in Srinagar, Uttarakhand state, India, Monday, May 2, 2016. Massive wildfires that have killed at least seven people in recent weeks were burning through pine forests in the mountains of northern India on Monday, including parts of two tiger reserves.(Press Trust of India via AP) INDIA OUT, MANDATORY CREDIT, NO ARCHIVE

A major wildfire burns through the forests of Ahirikot in Srinagar, India on Monday, May 2, 2016. Massive wildfires that killed at least seven people over recent days burned through pine forests in the Himalaya mountains of northern India on Monday. (Image source: Press Trust of India)

But in 2016, amidst what is likely to be the most intense period of extreme heat to ever impact India, the Himalayas are burning.

Extreme Heat, Drought Kills Hundreds, Displaces Farmers, Puts Towns on Life Support

Throughout April and into early May temperatures have soared to well above 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 C) and to sometimes higher than 122 F (50 C) all across the broad plains at the feet of the Himalayas. There, water stress now affects more than 330 million people. There, water trains are now necessary to keep whole towns from suffering dehydration. Farmers who have seen fields transformed into a baked white hard-pan are migrating to the cities in search of food, water and work. And armed guards now patrol the local water sources in regions hardest hit by the drought — preventing private farmers from stealing public water supplies for their crops.

The temperatures are so high that more than 300 people have now perished as a result of heat injuries. And Indian officials have now banned cooking during the day in an effort to reduce loss of life. But today the forests themselves are cooking as the air is filled with the smoke of more than 21,000 fires burning upon the flanks of India’s great mountain ranges.

21,000 Himalayan Wildfires

The fires began as early as February after a dry Winter and two years of depleted monsoonal rains. They continued to build through March and April. State firefighters were called up to combat the blazes, but to no avail. The fires kept growing and expanding. By last week the fires had begun to rage out of control — threatening 84 villages and enveloping more and more of the precious natural forest reserves that India has worked so hard to husband. By Monday, seven people had been killed by the fires and two endangered tiger preserves had been partially consumed.

Himalayas Burning

Massive plume of smoke from Himalayan wildfires becomes visible in the LANCE MODIS satellite shot on May 1, 2016. For reference, bottom edge of frame is about 600 miles.

Now conditions are so extreme that an army of 9,000 firefighters, including helicopter fire suppression craft, have been mobilized by the government of India in a desperate effort to beat back the flames. Blazes that are belching out thick clouds of smoke that now choke the airs over 1,000 miles of the Indian subcontinent, the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh, Thailand and Cambodia. A thickening slate-gray pall that is clearly visible in the satellite picture above.

In total, more than 21 districts in two Indian states are now affected by the most intense fire situation to strike India since 2012 and what could well become the worst burning season India has ever experienced. Already, number of fires started in the first four months of 2016 exceed the total number of fires during all of 2015. And India’s hottest months — May and June — are still ahead. So despite a massive firefighting effort, weather conditions will only continue to worsen during the weeks ahead. Meanwhile, the monsoonal rains, if they do muster sufficient strength to alleviate the drought, will not arrive in the mountains until late June or early July.

A Context of Climate Change

Weak monsoonal rains over the past two years have contributed to 2016’s severe drought and related wildfires. And a strong El Nino has likely abetted this monsoonal weakening. However, increasing global temperatures set up an overarching trend of heating and drying throughout India. One that is, all-too-likely, the larger driver of this year’s drought and burning. For these days, atmospheric temperatures are high enough to weaken the Southeast Asian Monsoon even without the influence of El Nino. In addition, rising temperatures over India have their own localized drying effect. In the Himalayas, a warming of about 0.6 degrees C per decade since 1977 has generated a decline in glaciers. This decline causes mountain streams and rivers to dwindle — increasing both drought and fire risk. The added heat also increases the rate of evaporation — parching the soil.

As a result, the current drought, heatwaves, and wildfires in India occur in a context of human-caused climate change. Hitting an intensity we would not have seen in the world of the 19th and 20th Centuries. Thus, fossil fuel burning has, almost certainly, set the stage for the unprecedented conditions that India is now experiencing today. Conditions that will continue to worsen as more hothouse gas emissions hit the world’s airs. The current crisis in India should, therefore, not be viewed as temporary, but as part of an ongoing trend.

Links:

Wildfires Sweep Through Mountains in North India

With Climate Change, Himalayas Future is Warmer, Not Brighter

Wildfire Engulfs 3,000 Hectarces in Himachal

Thousands Sent to Fight Wildfires in Himalayan Foothills of India

LANCE-MODIS

More Than 300 Million People Now Suffer From the Worst Indian Drought in at Least 4 Decades

Armed Guards Now Patrol Dams in India

Press Trust of India

Hat tip to Redsky

Hat tip to TodaysGuestIs

Climate Change Drives Half a Billion People to Suffer Hunger, Water Shortages as Droughts and Heatwaves Wreck Crops Across the Globe

At least 12 Indian states are believed to be facing famine and experts have warned that the water crisis could worsen if urgent action is not taken. — Greenpeace statement taken yesterday by The International Business Times.

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A human-forced warming of the globe is a trigger for increasingly severe droughts, water shortages, food shortages, and heatwaves intense enough to cause mass casualties. As global temperatures during 2015 and 2016 have risen to more than 1 degree Celsius above preindustrial readings, we’ve seen more and more reports coming in of these kinds of climate-change driven disruptions.

A new study out this week from the European Commission has found that 240 million people across the world are now suffering from food stress. With Greenpeace now warning that 330 million people in India alone are faced with water shortages and threat of famine, and with millions more coming under both food and water stress in Vietnam as a record Southeast Asian heatwave ramps up to never-before-seen extreme temperatures — it appears now that more than half a billion people around the world are dealing with a climate change driven food and water crisis.

It’s a growing global crisis that has now come to affect more than 45 nations. One that has put at least 80 million of those now suffering from hunger at a food stress level just one step below famine. One whose primary trigger appears to be widespread and expanding drought and extreme weather due to global temperatures hitting new all-time record highs.

Food stress map

(Despite what is probably the best global system ever devised to prevent and reduce hunger, the European Commission now finds that 240 million people are at risk of food stress. A number that is likely incomplete as a newly emerging heatwave in Southeast Asia is drying up food and water supplies for millions. Image source: The European Commission.)

It’s a situation that international agencies appear to be scrambling to keep track of. For with each passing week there appears to be new information about another country falling under food and water stress or of one already affected seeing conditions among strained populaces worsen.

Hunger Expanding Across The Globe

In the Equatorial and near-Equatorial regions of the world, nations are particularly vulnerable to the stress of rising temperatures. There, soil moisture is already tenuous in many regions. As temperatures rise, rates of evaporation increase and marginal areas can rapidly fall into drought. In addition, many regions reliant on glacier and snow melt to provide water during summer are seeing mountain snows vanish and high elevation glaciers dwindle away as consistently above freezing temperatures invade further and further into the higher elevations.

Across Africa, Southern and Eastern Asia, The Middle East, and Central America this story has been writ large as new climate change driven heat and dryness appears to have hit a tipping point this year. Severe heatwaves, droughts, and dwindling rivers are setting off intense hunger crises in North Korea, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Yemen, Sudan, Ethiopia, Egypt, Central Africa, and Nigeria — countries that now each host more than 10 million people under acute food stress. These are grim figures. But the numbers, in many cases, fail to tell the whole story of how dire the situation has actually become.

In North Korea, for example, officials there are warning of another Arduous March — a period of famine during the late 1990s and coinciding with droughts and rising global temperatures that killed more than 3.5 million in that country. Aid to North Korea during the 2000s alleviated some of the endemic hunger. But by the then record warm year of 2010 the droughts had re-emerged, and reports of hunger, stunted growth among children, and famine had again cropped up. In 2015, amidst global temperatures that had risen still higher, North Korea experienced its worst drought in at least 100 years. By as early as March, drought and heat had once-more settled in over a broad swath of Asia. And late last month, the state-run news agency Rodong Sinmun issued the following statement alluding to a rising risk of famine conditions in the country:

We may have to go on an arduous march, during which we will have to chew the roots of plants once again.

India Drought Baked and Bleached Riverbeds

(A hothouse created by ongoing fossil fuel burning and related carbon emissions has set off droughts and heatwaves around the world leaving riverbeds and farmlands baked and bleached. Image source: India Water Portal.)

More than a score of other nations now see between 1-10 million people in their countries facing hunger. Places like Cambodia, Madagascar, Iraq, Pakistan, Venezuela, Libya, Haiti, New Guinea, Chad, Mali, Somalia, and Zamibia. Earlier this week, the situation became very acute for Somalia as a group of 23 NGOs warned that the country was at high risk of falling into famine. There, water shortages, food shortages and livestock deaths have grown more and more widespread. Ever-deepening drought has pushed crops to fail and food prices to sky-rocket. An ongoing growing season disruption that has now pushed hundreds of thousands of people into hunger.

In Cambodia, a country suffering from a severe southeast Asian drought and heatwave that has left much of the region reeling, the EC identifies up to 5 million people threatened by hunger. Heat and drought there are now so severe that farmers cannot grow traditional crops. A local farmer describes the increasingly dire situation:

“Before it was not difficult, but now due to frequent drought even bananas don’t grow and other vegetables that we normally grow here are not doing well, not enough to eat. We cannot grow all the vegetables we need so sometimes I collect food from neighbours.”

A number of nations suffering from climate change related extreme weather events now triggering additional food and water stress are not currently listed in the recent EC report. Countries like India and Vietnam, which are both now confronting record drought, heat related mass casualties, heatwaves, water shortages, farmer suicides and crop losses. The severe drought and food shortage situation in Vietnam has come on with particular speed and intensity as local officials identified more than two million people at risk of hunger there just this week:

Vietnam is in urgent need of international aid worth US$48.5 million as a crippling drought threatens to create a shortage of food and water for two million people. Officials from the country’s agriculture ministry and the United Nations estimated at a meeting Tuesday that at least two million people in southern and central Vietnam lack clean water, with 1.1 million also in need of food support.

Record Asian Heatwave

(One of the most severe heatwaves on record settled in over Southeast Asia during April. The event has already killed 150 people due to heat alone in India — there sparking off such a severe water shortage that relief trains now move from town to town — providing people with emergency supplies as local wells and rivers dry up. In Vietnam and Cambodia, the severe heat has already lead to crop failures so widespread that millions are at risk of hunger. Image source: NASA and Voice of America.)

But perhaps hardest hit of all is India. There, so many towns have lost access to river or well water that a train filled with millions of gallons of the life-giving liquid now winds its way across India — providing people there with a water ration of between 4 and 10 liters per day meant to meet all daily drinking and bathing needs. Greenpeace has identified more than 330 million people who are now facing water shortages across the highly populated country. And according to that NGO 12 Indian states will face famine unless swift government action to alleviate the crisis takes place.

Indian officials have pinned hopes for refreshed water supplies on the Asian Monsoon which is scheduled to arrive by mid-to-late June. However, the human-driven warming of the globe has a tendency to reduce the amount of rainfall the annual Indian Monsoon provides. A fact hinted at in a recent statement to International Business Times by Greenpeace’s Ishteyaque Ahmad:

“Those who say that one or a few consecutive good monsoons will change the situation are either ignorant or are trying to hide the truth, which is very frightening. In fact, we are dehydrating our earth’s system by choice and not out of ignorance.”

Record High Global Temperatures as a Trigger

It is difficult to overstate the severity of droughts and heatwaves affecting many of these regions. For record-shattering high temperatures and moisture loss has been impacting these sections of the globe all throughout the 2015-2016 period. During this time, global temperatures have risen to never-before-seen levels. It’s a record spike of global heat that has been driven on by human-forced climate change. By levels of the heat trapping gas — carbon dioxide — rising to marks well above 405 parts per million this year. At the same time, El Nino has caused that heat to build up over the Equatorial and near-Equatorial regions of the world. Serving as a kind of human-forced warming amplifier for drought, heat, and water stress in these regions.

For the Summer of 2016, following one of the strongest El Ninos on record and entering a period when the world has never experienced such amazingly high global temperatures, the level of disruption is likely to be extraordinarily severe. Record heat will pull more moisture from soils and rivers than ever before, will take down the mountain snows that still exist faster than ever before, will dwindle the remaining glaciers to the lowest levels yet seen. In addition, consistent warm air invasions into the Arctic will tend to create high amplitude waves in the Jet Stream — setting up zones where droughts and heatwaves are further enhanced. So the crisis period for the Summer of 2016 has just begun.

In this context the expected onset of La Nina later in the year is far off. And though it may provide relief for some areas, this relief will be somewhat withdrawn by the climate change driven warming that is already in place and continues to steadily worsen. In addition, regions that tend to see dryness due to La Nina may see drought conditions further enhanced by the ongoing global heat build-up — places like California that should probably not let its guard down following a notably weak moisture flow off the record strong El Nino this past Winter.

Links:

Famine Early Warning System

The European Commission Report on Global Hunger

India Drought — Greenpeace Issues SOS, Famine Warnings

NASA GISS

Extreme Weather, Armed Conflict Affects Millions

NGOs Issue Famine Warning for Somalia

Vietnam Drought Threatens Millions

Punishing Heatwave Sets off Temperature Records Across Asia

India Water Portal

North Korean’s Arduous March

North Korea Experiences Worst Drought in at Least 100 Years

Chef Arrives in Cambodia to Draw Attention to Climate Change

The Keeling Curve

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to Wili

Hat Tip to DT Lange

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

Rains Failing Over India: Feeble 2014 Monsoon Heightens Concerns That Climate Change is Turning A Once-Green Land into Desert

El Nino has yet to be declared. Though signs of the Pacific Ocean warming event abound, they are still in the early stages. But for all the impact on the current Indian Monsoon — the rains this vast sub-continent depends on each year for a majority of its crops — the current pre-El Nino may as well be a monster event comparable to 1998.

For the rains that have come so far have been feeble. By June 18, precipitation totals were more than 50% below the typical amount by this time of year for northern and central India and 45% below average for the country as a whole. A stunted Monsoon that many are saying is about as weak as the devastatingly feeble 2009 summer rains. And with Pacific Ocean conditions continuing to trend toward El Nino, there is concern that this year’s already diminished rains will snuff out entirely by mid-to-late summer, leaving an already drought-wracked India with even less water than before.

Through June 25th, the trend of abnormally frail monsoonal rains continued unabated:

India Monsoon June 25, 2013India Monsoon June 25, 2014

(India cloud cover on June 25, 2013 [left frame] compared to India cloud cover on June 25 of 2014 [right frame]. Note the almost complete lack of storms over India for this year compared to 2013 when almost the entire country was blanketed by rains. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

India’s Rain Pattern Has Changed

It’s not just that 2014 is a bad year for India. It’s that the current weakened monsoon comes at the tail end of a long period in which the rains have increasingly failed. Where in the past it took a strong El Nino to stall the rains, ever-increasing human atmospheric and ocean warming have pushed the threshold for Monsoonal failure ever lower. Now even the hint of El Nino is enough to set off a dry spell. A growing trend of moisture loss that is bound to have more and more severe consequences.

A new study by Stanford University bears out these observations in stark detail. For the yearly monsoon that delivers fully 80 percent of India’s rains has fallen in intensity by more than 10% since 1951. And though a 10% loss may seem relatively minor, year on year, the effects are cumulative. Overall, the prevalence of dry years increased from 1981 to 2011 by 27% and the number of years experiencing 3 or more dry spells doubled.

Meanwhile, though a general drying trend has taken hold, rain that does occur happens in more intense bursts, with more rain falling over shorter periods. These newly intensified storms are more damaging to lands and homes, resulting in both increasing destruction of property while also greatly degrading the land through more intense erosion.

25 Percent of India’s Land is Turning to Desert

Loss of annual monsoonal rains is coming along with a dwindling of water flows from the melting Himalayan glaciers. These two climate change induced drying effects are already having stark impacts.

For according to the Indian Government’s Fifth National Report on Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought, a quarter of India’s land mass is now experiencing desertification even as 32 percent is suffering significant degradation due to heightening dryness and erosion. This amounts to more than 80 million hectares of land facing desertification while more than 100 million hectares are steadily degrading. The report also noted that areas vulnerable to drought had expanded to cover 68% of the Indian subcontinent.

From the report:

Desertification and loss of biological potential will restrict the transformation of dry lands into productive ecosystems. Climate change will further challenge the livelihood of those living in these sensitive ecosystems and may result in higher levels of resource scarcity.

Monsoonal Delay, Weakening Continues

India daily rainfall

(India daily rainfall as of June 26, 2014. Image source: India Monsoon.)

By today, June 26, the long disrupted and weakened monsoon continues to sputter. Moisture flow remains delayed by 1-2 weeks even as the overall volume of rainfall is greatly reduced. Though storms have exploded over some provinces, resulting in flash flooding, much of the country remained abnormally dry. Overall, preliminary negative rainfall departures remained at greater than 40% below average for most of the nation with only five provinces receiving normal rainfall and the remaining 31 receiving either deficient or scant totals.

 

Links:

LANCE-MODIS

National Drought Fears Loom as India Receives Deficient Rainfall

India’s Rain Pattern Has Changed: Researchers Warming of Future of Extreme Weather

A Quarter of India’s Land is Turning Into Desert

India Monsoon

Monsoon at Dead Halt

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

 

 

Monsoon Disrupted By El Nino + Climate Change as India Suffers Deaths, Crop Losses from Extreme Heat.

May is the month when the massive rainstorm that is the Asian Monsoon begins to gather and advance. This year, as in many other years, the monsoon gradually formed along the coast of Myanmar early in the month. It sprang forward with gusto reaching the Bay of Bengal by last week.

And there it has stalled ever since.

On May 25-27, an outburst of moisture from this stalled monsoonal flow splashed over the coasts of India. But by the 29th and 30th, these coastal storms and even the ones gathering over the Bengali waters had all been snuffed out. The most prominent feature in the MODIS shot of India today isn’t the rainfall that should be now arriving along the southeast coast, but the thick and steely-gray pallor of coal-ash smog trapped under a persistent and oppressive dome of intense heat.

Monsoon Disrupted

(MODIS shot of India on May 30th. See the open stretch of blue water in the lower right frame? That’s the Bay of Bengal which borders coastal India. During a normal year at this time, that entire ocean zone should be filled with the storm clouds of a building monsoon that is already encroaching on coastal India. Today, there is nothing but a smattering of small and dispersed cloud through a mostly clear sky. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

Monsoon Described as Feeble

Official forecasts had already announced as of May 27th that the annual monsoon was likely to be delayed by at least a week for southeast regions of India. Meanwhile, expected monsoonal rainfall for western and northern sections of India for 2014 fell increasingly into doubt.

From The Times of India:

The monsoon is likely to be delayed by 10 days, according to scientists at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM) here. The IITM’s third experimental real-time forecast says that a feeble monsoon will reach central India after June 20 as against the usual June 15. Last year, the monsoon had covered the entire country by June 15.

The annual monsoon is key to India’s agriculture. The substantial rains nurture crops even as they tamp down a powerful heating that typically builds throughout the sub-continent into early summer. Without these rains, both heat and drought tend to run rampant, bringing down crop yields and resulting in severe human losses due to excessive heat.

But, this year, heat and drought are already at extreme levels.

Major Heatwave Already Results in Loss of Life for 2014

As early as late March, the heatwave began to build over the Indian subcontinent. The heat surged throughout the state, setting off fires, resulting in a growing list of heat casualties, shutting down the power grid and spurring unrest. Meanwhile, impacts to India’s agriculture were already growing as the Lychee fruit crop was reported to have suffered a 40% loss.

By late May, temperatures across a broad region had surged above 105 degrees shattering records as the oppressive and deadly heat continued to tighten its grip.

In a country surrounded on three sides by oceans, it is a combination of heat, humidity and persistently high night-time temperatures that can be a killer. Wet bulb temperatures surge into a high-risk range for human mortality during the day even as night-time provides little respite for already stressed human bodies. Such extreme and long-duration heat doesn’t come without a sad toll. As of today, early reports indicated a loss of more than 56 lives due to heat stroke (In 2012 and 2013, total Indian heat deaths were near 1,000 each year). That said, final figures on heat losses are still pending awaiting complete reports from all of India’s provinces.

“Climatologically, we know that heatwaves are increasing in frequency and the number of days exceeding 45ºC temperatures is increasing. The frequency will increase further with global warming, hence this is a good example of a situation where science and disaster management can come together and avert damage,” a spokesman for India’s National Disaster Management Authority noted on Friday.

Hot Dust

(Hot Dust. A dust storm rolls through New Delhi on Friday amidst furnace-like 113 degree heat snarling traffic and resulting in the tragic loss of 9 more lives. Image source: Gaurav Karoliwal/YouTube Screenshot.)

Today the heatwave continued to gain ground, with Kota and Rajasthan reaching an all-time record of 116 degree F (46.5 C) as New Delhi’s mercury hit 113 degrees F in the midst of a drought-induced dust storm. Dust shrouding the city spurred traffic chaos and in the heat, darkness, and confusion nine more souls were lost.

After two months of growing disruption due to heat and drought, the lands and peoples of India cry out for a Monsoon that is running later and later with each new weather report.

Climate Change + El Nino: Adding Heat and Beating Back the Monsoon

As systems approach tipping points, they are more likely to tilt toward the extremes.

For India this year, its seasonally warmest period from April to May found severe heat amplification from a number of global factors. First, climate change seeded the ground for the current Indian heatwave by adding general heat and evaporation to already hot conditions. With global average heating of +0.8 C above 1880s levels amplifying in the hot zones, early moisture loss due to higher-than-normal temperatures produces a kind of snowball effect for still more warming. Essentially, the cooling effect of water evaporation is baked out early allowing for heat to hit harder just as typical seasonal maximums are reached.

Equatorial Pacific Ocean Temperatures May 30

(Equatorial Pacific Ocean temperatures warmed to +0.63 C positive anomaly on May 30th, extending further into El Nino Range. Image source: University of Maine.)

In addition, this year saw rapid progress toward an El Nino event in the Pacific Ocean with sea surface temperatures warming into the El Nino range by mid-May and continuing to ramp higher. By today, Equatorial Pacific anomalies had hit +0.63 C according to GFS analysis, extending a run into El Nino conditions.

El Nino events typically allow for the formation of hot, drier air over India. These air masses tend to engender extreme heatwaves like the one we are seeing now even as they delay the onset of cooling monsoonal rains. In essence, the monsoon is confronted with a heavy and entrenched wall of hot air that doggedly resists being shoved aside. And this is the very situation we observe now over India — a sputtering monsoon to the east getting bullied by a brutally hot and thick air mass that just won’t give ground. Climate change only exaggerates the problem by increasing the intensity and inertia of the hot air mass.

Major monsoonal disruptions typically occur during years following an El Nino’s peak heating impact. For example, in 1998, during a period following an extreme El Nino, India suffered one of its most severe droughts and monsoonal delays on record. But during recent years preceding El Nino, such as 2009, India also saw severe heat, drying, and crop damage due to a weakening of the annual summer rains. So an early monsoonal enfeeblement and coincident strong heatwaves and droughts over India with El Nino still forming is cause for some concern and bears further monitoring.

Currently, temperatures over India are surging to between 5 and 12 degrees Celsius above already hot averages. With heat and drought firmly in place, forecasts are calling for a 1 to 2 week delay in the cooling and moisture-bringing monsoon as India continues to swelter.

Links:

Heatwave Persists Across India

LANCE-MODIS

Northern India to Endure Scorching Heat and Drought due to Weak Monsoon

Heatwave Continues in Raj, Kota

Lychee Crop Suffers 40% Loss Due to Heatwave

Dust Storm Blamed for 9 Deaths, Transportation Nightmare

Indian Monsoon Delayed as Heatwave Continues

Ten Day Delay in Monsoon

El Nino Delays Rain, May Spell Trouble for Government

El Nino May Disrupt Monsoon

(Hat Tip to Colorado Bob RE Tipping Points)

(Hat Tip to Mark from New England for Excellent Clarifying Questions)

 

 

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