South India is experiencing higher than normal temperatures in the month of February, which could be a sign of an early and intense heatwave season in the region. The combined effect of global warming and El Nino conditions in the Pacific Ocean is likely to cause severe heat stress and droughts in the southern states, according to experts and reports.
The Rise of Temperatures in South India
According to the India Meteorological Department (IMD), the daily maximum temperatures in south India are 4-8 degrees Celsius above normal. The worst affected areas are in western and central Maharashtra, Rayalaseema in Andhra Pradesh, and northern Karnataka. The national capital, Delhi, also recorded its third hottest February day (33.6 degrees Celsius) in more than five decades on February 21.
The rise of temperatures in south India is unusual, as the region normally experiences cooler and pleasant weather in February. The IMD attributes the abnormal heat to the prevailing dry and clear weather conditions, coupled with the westerly and northwesterly winds from the land. These winds bring hot and dry air from the northwest and west India, where the temperatures are already high due to the lack of winter rains.
The Influence of El Nino and Global Warming
The abnormal heat in south India is also influenced by the global and regional climate factors, such as El Nino and global warming. El Nino is a periodic phenomenon that occurs when the surface waters of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean become warmer than usual, affecting the atmospheric circulation and weather patterns around the world. El Nino tends to reduce the rainfall and increase the temperatures in India, especially in the southern and central parts.
Global warming is the long-term rise of the average temperature of the Earth’s climate system, caused by the increased concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Global warming enhances the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, droughts, floods, and cyclones. Global warming also amplifies the effects of El Nino, making them more severe and unpredictable.
The Impacts of Heatwaves on South India
The early and intense heatwaves in south India could have serious impacts on the lives and livelihoods of the people, as well as the environment and the economy. Some of the impacts of heatwaves on south India are:
- Health Risks: Heatwaves pose a major threat to the health and well-being of the people, especially the elderly, the children, the poor, and the outdoor workers. Heatwaves can cause dehydration, heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and even death. Heatwaves can also aggravate the existing health conditions, such as cardiovascular, respiratory, and renal diseases. Heatwaves can also increase the risk of infectious diseases, such as malaria, dengue, and cholera, due to the proliferation of mosquitoes and bacteria.
- Water Scarcity: Heatwaves can exacerbate the water scarcity and stress in south India, which is already facing a severe water crisis due to the erratic and deficient monsoon rains, the overexploitation and pollution of groundwater, and the lack of water management and conservation measures. Heatwaves can increase the evaporation and transpiration of water from the soil and plants, reducing the soil moisture and the groundwater recharge. Heatwaves can also increase the demand and consumption of water for domestic, agricultural, and industrial purposes, creating a gap between the supply and the demand of water.
- Crop Losses: Heatwaves can damage the crops and reduce the agricultural productivity and income of the farmers in south India, which is predominantly dependent on rain-fed agriculture. Heatwaves can affect the growth and development of the crops, such as wheat, rice, pulses, oilseeds, and fruits, by reducing the photosynthesis, pollination, and grain filling. Heatwaves can also increase the pest and disease attacks on the crops, lowering the quality and quantity of the yield.
- Power Outages: Heatwaves can strain the power supply and demand in south India, which is already facing a power deficit and frequent power cuts. Heatwaves can increase the demand for electricity for cooling and refrigeration purposes, putting pressure on the power grid and the generation capacity. Heatwaves can also affect the efficiency and performance of the power plants and the transmission lines, causing technical failures and breakdowns.
The Need for Preparedness and Adaptation
The early and intense heatwaves in south India are a warning sign of the changing climate and the rising temperatures, which are expected to worsen in the coming years. The IMD has predicted that the maximum temperatures over northwest, west, and central India would be 3-5 degrees Celsius higher than the long-term average in the next few days. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has also warned of a likely global temperature spike due to the warming El Nino event.
The need for preparedness and adaptation to the heatwaves is urgent and imperative, as they pose a serious threat to the human and natural systems. Some of the measures and actions to cope with the heatwaves are:
- Implementing and enforcing heat action plans and early warning systems, which provide timely and accurate information and guidance to the public and the authorities on the heatwave conditions and the preventive and curative measures.
- Providing and ensuring access to adequate and affordable water, sanitation, and health services, especially for the vulnerable and marginalized groups, such as the elderly, the children, the poor, and the outdoor workers.
- Promoting and adopting water conservation and management practices, such as rainwater harvesting, groundwater recharge, drip irrigation, and water recycling, to reduce the water demand and stress.
- Enhancing and diversifying the agricultural practices, such as crop rotation, intercropping, mulching, and organic farming, to improve the soil health and moisture, and to reduce the crop losses and risks.
- Improving and upgrading the power infrastructure and efficiency, such as smart grids, renewable energy sources, and energy audits, to balance the power supply and demand, and to prevent the power outages and losses.