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

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

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

India Heatwave

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

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

India’s Two Year Drought

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links:

India Scrambles to Alleviate Severe Drought

Is India Facing its Worst-Ever Water Crisis?

Water Train Reaches Latur

Heatwave Claims 111 Lives in India

India Meteorological Division

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

Earth Nullschool

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

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to TodaysGuestIs

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Wet Bulb at 33 C — Human Hothouse Kills Nearly 800 in Pakistan

Human-forced warming of the global climate system is pushing sea surface temperatures in some areas to a maximum of 33 C. Extreme ocean warming that is increasing the amount of latent heat the atmosphere can deliver to human bodies during heatwaves. And near a 33 C sea surface hot zone, the past few days have witnessed extreme heat and related tragic mass casualties in Sindh, Pakistan.

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For Pakistan, the heat and humidity has been deadly. Temperatures over Southeastern Pakistan hit 100 to 113 Fahrenheit (40 to 45 degrees Celsius) during recent days. Night time lows dipped only into the 80s and 90s (30s Celsius). Relative humidity throughout this period has remained above a brutal 50% even during the hottest hours of the day.

Wet bulb temperatures (the wet-bulb temperature is the temperature air has if it is cooled to saturation — 100% relative humidity — by evaporation) climbed into a dangerous range of 30 to 33 degrees Celsius. This greatly reduced the ability of evaporation at skin level to cool the bodies of human beings exposed to such oppressive temperatures. As a result, people working outdoors, the elderly, or those without access to climate-controlled environments fell under severe risk of heat related injuries.

The Hospital Morgue is Overflowing

According to reports from Al Jazzera, thousands of heat injuries and hundreds of deaths have occurred across the region since Saturday. Karachi’s largest hospital — Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC) — has been flooded with over 5,000 patients suffering from heat injuries since the weekend. At some points, the hospital was receiving one heat injury patient per minute — a pace that nearly overwhelmed the facility. By earlier today, more than 380 of those patients had died.

Dr Seemin Jamali, a senior official at JPMC noted to Al Jazeera:

“The mortuary is overflowing, they are piling bodies one on top of the other. We are doing everything that is humanly possible here. Until [Tuesday] night, it was unbelievable. We were getting patients coming into the emergency ward every minute.”

Across Sindh, Pakistan the story was much the same with the total official heat death toll now standing at 775 and climbing as calls were raised for more government support for people impacted by the worst heat wave to hit Pakistan in at least 15 years.

Killing Heat and Unprecedented Rains

This extreme and deadly heat is a feature of a boundary zone between a hot, high-pressure air mass over the Persian Gulf region abutting against a very moist and El Nino-intensified monsoonal system over India. The result is a combination of high heat and high humidity — factors that, together, are very hard on the human body (wet bulb temperatures above 30 C are considered dangerous, while a blanket measure of 35 C [never reached yet on Earth] is considered rapidly deadly even in the shade).

During late May and early June, similar conditions resulted in hundreds of heat related deaths in India. When the heat finally abated, the subsequent influx of monsoonal moisture set off torrential downpours. In some places, rates of rainfall exceeded typical June monsoonal accumulations by nearly 50 percent with Mumbai already having received 32 inches of rainfall (normal June rainfall is 23 inches). With Mumbai showing daily rainfall accumulations of 1-3 inches, it is possible that June totals could be double that of a typical year.

A Ramping Oceanic Heat/Moisture Pump — Feature of a Record Warm World

The high heat, high humidity and related extreme rainfall events are all features of a warming world. At issue, primarily, is the impact of human forced global warming on the ocean system and how this heating then impacts the atmosphere — making it harder for humans to remain alive outdoors during the most extreme heating events even as it pushes a tendency for more and more extreme droughts and deluges.

This warming related heat and moisture flux is most visible out in the Pacific, where record global atmospheric and ocean heat is pushing maximum sea surface temperatures into the lower 30s (typically between 30 and 31 degrees Celsius). These high sea surface temperatures in a record warm world are now dumping an extreme amount of moisture into the atmosphere through an El Nino amplified evaporation rate. A subsequent amplification of the equatorial storm track due to extreme moisture loading has already seen extraordinary record rainfall events in places as widespread as India, China and the Central U.S.

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(Sea surface temperatures climb to near 33 C in the Ocean region near Pakistan — supporting wet bulb temperatures [high heat and high humidity] that generate a heightened risk of heat injury and death. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Maximum global sea surface temperature is a good proxy measure for how much moisture the atmosphere can hold, a measure that also likely determines the maximum wet bulb temperature (implied latent heat) at any given point on the globe. And particularly, near Pakistan, we find ocean surface temperature readings in the range of 30 to 33 C running through the coastal zone of the Indian Ocean and on into the Persian Gulf. Readings that increased the amount of moisture the atmosphere could hold at high temperature, increased relative humidity readings as temperatures entered the 100s Fahrenheit (40s C), and forced wet bulb temperatures into deadly ranges which in turn reduced the ability of the human body to cool by evaporation at skin level.

This is how human-forced global warming kills with direct heat — by basically increasing latent heat to the point that evaporation can no longer cool the human body to a natural maintenance temperature of 98.6 (F) or 37 (C). And once wet bulb temperatures start hitting 35 C, then the heat casualty potential really starts to get bad — essentially rendering heat wave regions temporarily uninhabitable for human life outdoors. With maximum sea surface temperatures now running near 33 C, we’re probably just within about 2 C of hitting that deadly boundary.

The Pakistan and Indian heat deaths this year, though extraordinarily tragic and probably preventable without current level of human forced warming of the atmosphere, serve as a warning. Keep warming the globe through fossil fuel emissions and there are many far, far worse heatwaves to come.

Links:

Pakistan Heatwave Death Toll Edges Toward 800

Pakistan Heatwave Death Tool Rises to 750

Heavy Rain Soaks India as Monsoon Advances

Flash Floods Pelt China

Earth Nullschool

An Adaptability Limit To Climate Change Due to Heat Stress

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Monsoon At Dead Halt: Chances For Summer El Nino Jump to 70% as India Swelters

mon-prog

Current advance of the Indian Monsoon indicated by the green line vs typical historic advance indicated by the dashed red line. Image source: India Meteorological Department.

The Indian Monsoon arrived in Sri Lanka on June 2nd, 8 days late, with extreme force. Dumping excessive rainfall even for a typically powerful event, it forced 2,500 to flee and resulted in the loss of 22 souls. There it stalled, battening into a Bay of Bengal moisture flow that hasn’t budged since May 23rd.

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By today, June 5th, powerful storms should be dumping rain over a wide swath including the entire southern tip of India, almost all of the waters between Myanmar and the Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh coasts, and over most of Bangladesh. But in the satellite shot only scattered storms are visible where powerful, wall-to-wall squalls should now cover an impressive swath.

By this time last year, more than a third of India was obscured by cloud. Today, the skies of this nation of 1.25 billion people are ominously clear. The steely-gray aerial tint of coal ash smog is the most impressive feature in an otherwise open expanse from the northwest deserts to the southeast coast. A massive zone showing only sparse hint or hope of rain.

Even Sri Lanka seems mostly cloud-free. The monsoon and, more importantly, the crop-essential rains it brings are walled out, pushed into the margins by El Nino and some of the hottest global temperatures on record.

India monsoon stalled

Blazingly clear skies laced with ominous coal ash over India during a time when monsoonal storms usually advance. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.

Forecasts indicate that some of the long-delayed rain could arrive to the coast by tomorrow through Sunday. Sparse comfort to sweltering interior sections that may not now see the cooling monsoon until after July 1st.

Unrelenting Heat Risks Late Switch to Violent Storms

In the north, the heat and drought just builds and builds. Jaipur recorded its highest temperature in 33 years on Thursday at a scorching 46.3 degrees Celsius (115.3 F). Meanwhile, New Delhi hit a new record high for the day of 45 C (113 F). Forecasts for New Delhi on Saturday and Sunday show the potential for even more extreme heat with temperatures projected to climb to 116 F. Over the coming ten days, the coolest is expected to be Friday of next week at 109 F.

The continued delay of monsoonal rain combines with record heat throughout northern and western sections of India to enhance risks of drought and loss to crops. Heatwave conditions have already reduced Lychee fruit crop yields by 40%. But an extended stalling of the monsoon and ongoing heat could result in increased damage.

Atmospheric thickening that comes with such extreme heat can also spur intense rain and hail events causing another kind of damage to crops. So a flash switch from heat to heavy storms like those seen earlier this week in Sri Lanka may not be so much of a boon as a terrible jolt to affected lands.

Moderate to Strong El Nino Ever More Likely

This year’s monsoonal delay and related extreme weather were likely amplified by a combination of record atmospheric heat due to human-caused greenhouse gas forcing and a growing and strengthening El Nino. In April, global atmospheric temperatures hit new record highs of +.91 C above 1880s values even as El Nino rapidly gained ground in the Pacific through May.

Multivariate ESNO Index values catapulted to +0.93 in May hitting the seventh highest values on record for the month and pushing the current El Nino into Moderate-Strong range for this time of year. During previous years, similar high values resulted in strong El Ninos on 3 of 5 occasions in the climate record. So historical indicators point toward a 60% chance of a strong event emerging by later this year.

From to NOAA’s El Nino Discussion Page:

The long anticipated breakthrough to El Niño conditions in 2014 is clearly under way, leading to the next question of how big it will get. Of the 10 nearest-ranked April-May values, five had clearly come up to this level over the previous three months. Among those five, four continued at El Niño levels through the rest of the year, while one (1993) dropped back to borderline neutral conditions by the end of the year. One (2002) ended up as a weak-to-moderate event, while the other three (1957, 1987, and 1997) are classified as strong El Niño events in the MEI sense. In other words, the simple-minded odds for El Niño remain at or above 80% through the remainder of 2014, and are consistent with previous discussions on this website. The odds for a strong El Niño are perhaps slightly higher than before, somewhere around 60%.

Meanwhile, the official NOAA forecast is more cautious, with model interpretations pointing to a higher likelihood for a moderate El Nino during 2014.

Consensus El Nino Forecast

El Nino probability graph. Image source: CPC.

Overall, chances for evolution to full-blown El Nino rose significantly with today’s forecast now showing a 70% chance for El Nino development by this summer and nearly an 85% chance for El Nino development by Fall-Winter.

Regardless of El Nino strength, such an event is likely to have broad-ranging global impacts in the context of human-caused warming.

India’s Heightening El Nino + Climate Change Threat to Crops

For India, history shows numerous cases of severe monsoonal disruption during strong, moderate, and, recently, even weak El Nino events. In addition, record high atmospheric temperatures enhance extreme drought and flood potentials by amping up the hydrological cycle and thus increasing the rate of both evaporation and precipitation. Storms, where they do occur tend to be both tall and abnormally powerful under current human-warming related stresses even as droughts tend to develop with higher velocity and to persist for longer periods.

It is possible, due to both changes to the hydrological cycle and to atmospheric circulation, that the Indian monsoon has become even more sensitive to the El Nino pattern under current human-caused warming. This year’s monsoonal delay with El Nino just emerging shows an almost instant response to the forcing coming from increased temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific. As such, conditions of heightening threat for crop damage throughout a land where 1.25 billion people rely on the annual rains is a critical issue.

nepac_anomaly_ophi0

(Extraordinary sea surface temperature anomalies in the Northeast Pacific including numerous pools of +2.25 to +4 C or higher departures are indicative of both a strengthening El Nino pattern and a general warming of Ocean surface waters through human greenhouse gas heat forcing. Image source: NOAA Environmental Modeling.)

Overall, the forecast remains for continued monsoonal delay and disruption, continued heatwaves and a likelihood for extreme rainfall and storms in the regions where the monsoon finally arrives. With El Nino conditions in place over the Pacific now, with atmospheric temperatures rising into record range, and with an official El Nino status likely to be declared by summer, this forecast is lent yet more certainty and urgency.

Links:

India Meteorological Department

LANCE-MODIS

NOAA’s El Nino Discussion Page

CPC

North India Reels Under Heatwave

Monsoon Delayed Across India, Deadly Flooding in Sri Lanka

Weather Underground Ten Day Forecast for New Delhi

(Hat Tip to Timothy Chase)

 

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