Heat wave across India in 2024: Causes and Effects

India is currently facing one of the hottest summers on record in 2024, with temperatures rising above 50°C across the country. Due to which health, agriculture and daily life is being affected. To understand why India is so hot at the moment, we need to explore the multiple contributing factors, including climate change, weather events and human activities.

The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) has specific criteria for declaring a heat wave: when the maximum temperature reaches 45 °C (113 °F) or more, regardless of the normal maximum temperature, or when the maximum temperature is less than The low was 4.5°C (6.4°C (8.1°F to 11.5°F)) above the region’s normal maximum temperature.

Climatic Factors

  1. Global Warming and Climate Change
    • Rising global temperatures: The primary driver behind rising temperatures is global warming. Human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels, have significantly increased the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Due to this, the average temperature of the Earth is rising slowly but continuously.
    • Heat wave intensity: Climate models have shown that as global temperatures rise, heat waves become more frequent, intense, and longer. This year, the direct impact of these trends is seen in India, with extreme heat conditions likely to persist for longer.
  2. El Niño Effect
    • Disrupted Weather Patterns: The El Niño phenomenon, characterized by the warming of sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean, can significantly alter weather patterns worldwide. During El Niño years, India often experiences higher temperatures and reduced rainfall.
    • 2024 El Niño Event: The ongoing strong El Niño event in 2024 has exacerbated the heat wave conditions in India. This has disrupted the usual monsoon patterns, leading to hotter and drier conditions across the subcontinent.

Geographic and Meteorological Factors

  1. India’s Geographical Location
    • Proximity to the Equator: India’s location is close to the Equator, so it naturally has high temperatures, especially during the summer months when the sun is right overhead.
    • Land warming: India’s vast land mass is warming rapidly, especially in the northern and central regions. This warming is more pronounced due to the lack of moderating effects such as large water bodies.
  2. Delayed Monsoon
    • Impact of Monsoon Delay: The Indian monsoon, which typically brings relief from the summer heat, has been delayed this year. This delay means prolonged exposure to high temperatures before the cooling effects of monsoon rains arrive.
    • Low Rainfall: Even when the monsoon does arrive, the El Niño effect is likely to cause reduced rainfall, limiting the cooling impact and prolonging the heat wave.

Environmental and Human Factors

  1. Urban Heat Islands
    • Urbanization Impact: Rapid urbanization has led to the creation of urban heat islands. Cities with dense concentrations of buildings, roads, and other infrastructure absorb and retain heat more than natural landscapes, leading to higher temperatures in urban areas.
    • Lack of Green Spaces: The reduction in green spaces and vegetation in cities further exacerbates the heat, as there is less natural cooling from plant transpiration.
  2. Deforestation and Land Use Changes
    • Loss of Forest Cover: Deforestation and changes in land use have significantly reduced the natural cooling effect provided by forests and green cover. Forests play a crucial role in regulating temperatures through shading and evapotranspiration.
    • Soil Degradation: Unsustainable agricultural practices and overuse of land have led to soil degradation, reducing its ability to retain moisture and cool the environment.
  3. Water Scarcity
    • Drought Conditions: Water scarcity, exacerbated by over-extraction and poor management, has led to drought conditions in many parts of India. This not only affects agriculture but also limits the availability of water for cooling and hydration.
    • Inadequate Infrastructure: Inefficient water management and inadequate infrastructure make it difficult to cope with the increased demand for water during heat waves.

Consequences of the Heat Wave

  1. Health Impacts
    • Heat-Related Illnesses: There has been a significant increase in cases of heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and heat cramps. These illnesses can be serious and even fatal, particularly among vulnerable populations such as the elderly, children, and those with pre-existing health conditions.
    • Increased Mortality: The extreme temperatures have led to a rise in heat-related deaths, highlighting the severe public health impact of the heat wave.
  2. Economic and Social Impacts
    • Agricultural Stress: The intense heat is placing tremendous stress on agriculture, with crops wilting and yields decreasing. This threatens food security and the livelihoods of millions of farmers.
    • Energy Demand: There is a surge in energy demand for cooling, leading to power outages and putting a strain on the electricity grid. This affects industries and households, compounding economic challenges.
  3. Environmental Impacts
    • Wildfires: The high temperatures and dry conditions have increased the risk of wildfires, causing significant environmental damage and further worsening air quality.
    • Migration and Displacement: The extreme heat is forcing people to migrate from the worst-affected areas, leading to increased pressure on urban centers and resources.

Is this extreme heat indicating some big problem in the future?

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