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Climate Change: Prolonged heat, no monsoon relief in sight

Climate change made India's heatwave 30 times more likely, a study has found. And as the country continues to suffer from heat, the monsoon is late

Pre-monsoon showers have brought some relief from the heatwave, but chronic heat persists. (PTI)

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What a difference a few days can make. Delhi had been burning in a near-continuous heatwave since March, until a spate of pre-monsoon storms cooled the weather. Given how human beings seem to be wired to optimism, it’s easy to forget just how nightmarishly hot March, April and May have been.

However, it would be a mistake to forget. As a study from the international group of climate scientists, World Weather Attribution (WWA), pointed out on 23 May, climate change has made such heatwaves 30 times more likely. The analysis pointed out that the heatwave sparked forest fires in India, melted Himalayan glaciers in Pakistan, and affected crop yields.

Also Read: Is extreme heat making India unlivable?

What the WWA study, Climate Change Made Devastating Early Heat In India And Pakistan 30 Times More Likely, points out is that below average rainfall and humidity in these three months resulted in a dry heatwave. This column had gone into the reasons for why we had so little rainfall these past months, and that too was due to climate change.

The report also touches upon another aspect of how climate change-fuelled heat is affecting countries like India: chronic heat. Even when heatwave conditions subside, as this writer’s 2020 article on extreme heat pointed out, prolonged heat lingers for months on end. This results in prolonged human discomfort with no relief in sight. The WWA states that if global average temperatures hit 2 degree Celsius (it’s currently forecast to touch 1.5 degree Celsius in the next few years), then such heatwaves will become more likely by an additional factor of 2-20.

Also Read: Why we need to talk about climate change everyday

IMD rain forecast.
IMD rain forecast. (Courtesy IMD)

And speaking of relief, by end-May, we anyway eagerly look forward to the onset of the monsoon. And this year, that yearning has been sharpened. But will that relief arrive in the form that we hope it to? According to forecasts (see image above) from the India Meteorological Department (IMD), between 27 May and 3 June, the country will receive 33.58% less rainfall than usual. Between 3 June and 6 June, India will receive 27.5% less rainfall than usual. Parts of the country that have suffered the most during the heatwave, will receive even less rainfall (-59.77% for north-west India and -53.38% for central India). This means a delayed onset of the monsoon, and may even indicate below-normal monsoon rains this year. Basically, bad news.

Also Read: How climate change is changing the Indian monsoon

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