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The Indian Hot Season Began Two Months Early This Year — And the Worst is Yet to Come

Simulations indicate an all-round warming, associated with increasing greenhouse gas concentrations, over the Indian subcontinent… — Climate Change and India

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In India, it was still February. The hot season was supposed to begin two months later in April. But temperatures in some coastal provinces had already rocketed to above 100 degrees F (38 C).

Late February temperatures for Konkan hit as high as 104 F (40 C) even as Mumbai and Ratnagiri hit 100 F (38 C).

According to Indian meteorological sources, there are no weather records of temperatures hitting such high marks so fast at any time in at least the past 20 years. Temperatures in late February and March for this region hit a range that is more typical of the height of the hot season from April to May. And when one considers the fact that India has experienced extreme heat and drought for at least the past two years running, the present context is notably disturbing.

(For India, a heatwave that came two months early has already reached an extreme intensity. Yesterday, most of the country saw temperatures above 104 F [40 C] with some locations hitting as high as 113 F [45 C]. Over the coming weeks, this heat is likely to become even more intense. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

If temperatures started out hot, they’ve only grown hotter. By late March, Nagpur had hit as high as 109 F (43 C ) on Tuesday of last week — its thirteenth straight day of highs above 104 F (40 C). Last week New Dehli saw the end of an 8 day streak of 100 F (38 C) + readings. And places like Bhira were already imposing noon curfews to protect residents from the heat. By April 5, most of the country was experiencing above 100 F (38 C) readings (see above graphic).

Worst Still To Come

Despite precautions to prevent death and injury that began as early as March 8, heat mortality is already a problem. As of March 30th, two deaths had already been reported. And though the mortality is now no-where near the tragedies of past years as 2,000 souls were lost to heat during 2015 and 700 were lost during 2016, the early appearance of killing heat in 2017 does not bode well.

India Heatwave

(Predicted temperature anomalies for April through June of 2017 shows that a severe heatwave is on the way. Image source: Hindustan Times.)

According to meteorological reports, this early heat has set the stage for very extreme conditions from June through April:

The India Meteorological Department’s (IMD) seasonal forecast shows the worst is yet to come, as vast swathes of the country are set to reel under scorching heat from April to June before the monsoon arrives…The forecast is a reflection of the searing heat in most parts of India, including the national capital, since March. New Delhi endured its hottest March in seven years this season, and the mercury is refusing to relent.

As with recent years, and with El Nino emerging in the Equatorial Pacific, there is also now some risk that the Indian Monsoon will again be delayed. So we could end up with a situation where the hot season starts early, becomes very intense in April-June, and ends late.

Conditions in Context

With the Earth now 1.1 to 1.2 C warmer than 1880s values, the climate of India has already changed. Glaciers and snowpacks in the Himalayas are less extensive. Heatwaves and droughts are more intense. And the summer monsoon is often delayed.

(Present extreme heat, drought, and lengthening of the hot season is consistent with the expected impacts of human forced climate change to India. The above graphic lists additional expected impacts for the state. Image source: Climate Change and India.)

Almost every year now, there is news of crippling heat and drought. By late April of 2016, the combination of extreme heat and drought generated severe water stress for 330 million people. This year, the progression of extreme heat and drought has occurred far earlier than normal. And these severe conditions related to human-forced climate change set a very hot and grim stage for India during 2017. As a result, the risk of heat mortality, water stress, crop damage and other heatwave and drought related impacts is very high for India as we enter the months of April and May — when conditions tend to be at their hottest.

Unfortunately, since so much carbon has already been emitted into the Earth’s atmosphere from fossil fuel burning, droughts and heatwaves are likely to continue to become more and more intense for India over at least the next two decades. And the longer large volumes of carbon continue to hit the atmosphere, the worse and worse the situation for India becomes.

(UPDATED)

Links:

Early Heat Grips India

India Heatwave Turns Deadly

India and Climate Change

Earth Nullschool

Hat tip to Ryan in New England

Hat tip to Spike

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The Increasingly Dangerous Hothouse — Local Reports Show It Felt Like 160 F (71 C) in India on June 13th, 2016

The climate change induced delay of India’s monsoon is a pretty big deal. Not only does it reduce the amount of moisture — necessary for the provision of life-giving crops for this country of 1.2 billion — provided by the annual rains, it also increases the potential for life threatening heatwave conditions. And according to local reports, some of the highest heat index values ever recorded on the face of the Earth were seen in Bhubaneswar, India during a period of record heat and high humidity as the Asian Monsoon struggled to advance.

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The Indian province of Odisha sweltered under high heat and humidity that may well have represented the most miserable conditions ever recorded on Earth at any time or place on June 12th and 13th of 2016. Cooling monsoonal rains should have arrived over this eastern section along the Bay of Bengal by that time. But this year, the rains were delayed by about a week and were still about 5 days away. The heat was firmly entrenched. A great wall that seemed to fend the monsoon off.

India Monsoon 2016

(The India Monsoon is finally starting to catch up. After being delayed by 1-2 weeks during early June, the monsoon is now on time for some locations even as it still delayed by 5-7 days for parts of western India. The early June delay, however, has probably lowered overall moisture content of the monsoon even as it contributed to record heat index and wet bulb readings for sections of Odisha on June 12 to 13. Image source: India Meteorological Department.)

As the frontal edge of the monsoonal flow began to run into a region of high temperatures over Odisha, humidity levels spiked even as temperatures remained high. On the 12th and 13th of June, 2016, thermometers topped out at between 101 F (38 C) and 109 F (43 C) even as humidity levels rose. This combination generated a spike in what is called the Misery Index (or an indicator of how hot if felt to be outside). And it also, apparently, pushed wet bulb temperatures in some areas to record levels for any place on Earth.

Wet Bulb at 38 C?

For an unconfirmed report out of Bhubaneswar indicates that temperatures on June 13th hit 103.5 F (39.7 C) even as relative humidity readings were at 87 percent. That’s a wet bulb reading of 37.6 C. And if this report is true, that means it felt like 160 degrees Fahrenheit or 71 degrees Celsius for a brief period in Bhubaneswar that day. If so, this would be near the highest Misery Index value ever recorded on the planet — just a hair below last year’s peak measure in Iraq of a 163 F or 73 C heat index (38.4 C wet bulb) reading. And outright crushing periods during 2015 when India’s wet bulb measures in Andhra Pradesh hit 30 C.

image

(According to Earth Nullschool, it felt like 41 to 54 C [104 to 127 F] outside over Eastern India on June 12th and 13th of 2016 due to combined high levels of heat and humidity. Local reports from Bhubaneswar indicate that this Misery Index hit a stunning 71 C [160 F] on June 13th. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

A wet bulb measure is a kind of thermometer for latent heat in the atmosphere. It uses a wet bladder to measure the temperature of a membrane at the point at which water evaporates. It’s meant to simulate the lowest temperature the human skin can reach through evaporative cooling as the body sweats. The higher the combined heat and humidity, the higher the wet bulb temperature and the hotter it feels. We’ve all experienced this when stepping outside on a day during which both the temperature and humidity are high. And we intuitively know that it’s the combination of heat and atmospheric moisture that makes hot days feel even more oppressive.

It’s a combo that’s also dangerous to human health. At a certain point, the human body becomes unable to cool itself by sweating. And this level of latent heat at which the human body becomes incapable of transporting heat away from the skin is a wet bulb reading of 35 degrees Celsius.

Wet bulb readings do not need to hit 35 C to risk loss of life and heat injury. Wet bulbs above 25 C are considered dangerous and readings for extended periods near 30 C have resulted in mass injury and loss of life in places like Europe during the early 2000s, in Chicago during 1995 and in India during 2015 and 2016. However, exceeding wet bulb readings of 35 C over extended periods of time is an extraordinarily dangerous event. It’s also a new hazard related to human caused climate change. For last year was the first time a wet bulb reading above 35 C was ever recorded on the face of the Earth. And the 2016 37.6 C wet bulb reading for Bhubaneswar, if it bears out, is an extraordinary measure.

Readings this high over large regions over any extended period would make staying outdoors without access to cool water or climate controlled environments unlivable for human beings. And a human forced warming of the world by fossil fuel burning appears to now be in the process of bringing those conditions about. A condition of dangerous added latent heat to the atmosphere that has caused some scientists to sound the alarm that a global hothouse emergency is already upon us. And that unless a massive curtailment of fossil fuel burning takes place soon — large sections of the Earth’s surface will be rendered uninhabitable to human beings due to atmospheric latent heat content alone.

For as ocean surface temperatures rise, more moisture is pumped into the atmosphere in the form of humidity. This extra humidity hits regions of airs that have already been warmed to much higher readings by the over-burden of heat trapping gasses, like CO2, in the atmosphere. The result is a higher latent heat content of the airs of the Earth, and the breaching of wet bulb readings that are deadly to human beings who lack access to climate controlled environments.

UPDATED 11:00 PM EST, June 21

Links:

India Meteorological Department

Odisha Sizzles Under High Heat and Humidity

Odisha Continues to Sizzle Under Heat Wave

Earth Nullschool

Understanding Wet Bulb Temperatures

Dr. James Hansen: We Have a Global Emergency

Hat tip to Wili

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Scott

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

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

Human Hothouse Death Toll Climbs to 2300 in India, Monsoon Suppressed, Delayed

The fifth deadliest heatwave in the global record continues to claim lives in India.

As of earlier today 2300 souls were accounted lost due to oppressive May and early June heat preceding a delayed onset of a substantially weakened annual summer Monsoon. Temperatures across India have ranged from the middle 90s to as high as 114 degrees (Fahrenheit) over recent days with readings remaining in heatwave ranges even throughout the night.

indiaheatwave

(May 25 India Heatwave Map provided by NOAA.)

The above May 25 temperature map by NOAA displays an extreme heat pattern that has remained in place now for weeks over India, with 40 degree Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) temperatures covering a greater portion of the country. Andhra Pradesh, at the center of this hot zone, has seen the most impact with more than 1700 souls lost there as of this morning.

As with most heatwaves, the elderly, the poor, and those who work outdoors have shown the highest losses. In this heatwave, field workers, who survive on daily wages, have been particularly hard-hit. The choice for them has been a brutal one of brave the blazing heat and risk life or stay home in the shade and risk livelihood.

Monsoon Delayed, Weak

A smattering of rain showers has started to infiltrate sections of India as of today, bringing isolated relief. But, overall, the larger Indian Monsoon continues to hold off, delayed at its gates in the Bay of Bengal.

India monsoon

(Monsoon again delayed as heatwave conditions remain entrenched over India. Image source: India’s Monsoon Information Page.)

As of June 2, Monsoonal advance had only proceeded to the typical May 25 line — more than a one week delay. A cruel tardiness for poor, sweltering India.

Adding insult to an already bad climate state for India, as of this morning the Government had also downgraded the expected strength of the monsoon to 88 percent of a typical year. The 12 percent loss of water from the farm-feeding rains would increase risk of an agriculture-disrupting drought in many of India’s states. Such a drought could hit the 50% of India’s non-irrigated farms quite hard while also adding stress to water supplies feeding the irrigated facilities.

A Heatwave that was Almost Certainly Caused by Climate Change

Human-forced warming of the oceans through fossil fuel burning has almost certainly had an impact on this year’s drought and monsoon delay for India. The warming has added about 0.6 C of heat to a now strengthening El Nino over the Equatorial Pacific. In the past, only strong El Ninos provided enough atmospheric heat forcing to delay monsoons, spark powerful heatwaves, and spur droughts across India. Now, even weak to moderate events are having this effect with last year seeing a mere shift toward El Nino conditions delaying monsoonal progress and reducing rainfalls across the region.

In addition, recent studies have found that 75 percent of heatwaves are now caused by climate change globally. So, as with the Texas floods of  the past few weeks, when we are looking at instances of freakishly extreme weather, we are also looking at the growing impact of human-caused climate change.

Unfortunately, due to the delayed monsoon and extreme heat deeply entrenched throughout many regions of India, we can expect a high risk for loss of life to continue for at least the next few days as a weakened and delayed monsoon fights to gain ground. This is an instance of yet another early, easy outlier of the very extreme climate change related weather that will follow, with locked-in conditions worsening so long as we continue burning fossil fuels.

Links:

Extreme Temperatures Kill More than 2,000 in India

Anthropogenic Contribution to Heavy Rainfall and High Temperature Extremes

More than 2300 Have Now Died in India’s Heatwave

NOAA

India’s Monsoon Information Page

Government Downgrades Monsoon Forecast, Stokes Drought Fears

Rains Failing Over India

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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