The year 2019 may go down in Indian history as one having extreme climates – very hot summer, record extreme rainfall and very cold winter – in a single year. In between, there were simultaneous cyclones in Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea, a rare weather event.
Already, the World Meteorological Organisation in a report released on December 3 had described India as the fifth most vulnerable country to the increasing threats of climate change terming cyclone Fani that hit Odisha in May 2019, and extended Indian monsoon as ‘high impact’ weather events of 2019.
The WMO report also mentioned that June-July heatwave was among the longest in the country in past three decades, leading to death of 200 people, while detailing about unprecedented heat waves that hit France, Germany and Australia in 2019.
This year, half of India’s population was hit by five different spells of heat waves in the months of June and July. The Indian Meteorological Department declares heat wave if the average day temperature is 4.5 degree Celsius above normal for at least two days.
After almost two decades, Delhi temperature touched 48 degree Celsius on June 10 and Churu in Rajasthan recorded 50.8, highest for any place in the world on June 1, even as the average temperature in several places in northern Indian plains, during this period was between 44 to 48 degree Celsius, said WMO’s State of Global Climate report 2019 released at recent climate summit in Madrid, Spain.
The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) declared July, 2019, as the hottest every July recorded in meteorological history with 65.12% of India’s population exposed to temperature over 40 degree Celsius, during the summer months of June and July. Although no government data is available for deaths due to heat waves in 2019, from 1992 to 2015, heat waves have claimed lives of 22,562 people across India.
Very hot weather also resulted in 113.74% increase in forest fires in a single year between 2018 and 2019. There were 1,88,674 forest fires reported in India from January 1, 2019 to December 26, 2019 as compared to 91,334 reported during the same period in 2018, according to Forest Survey of India’s website that monitors forest fires across India.
The long spell of heat wave delayed the onset of the monsoon by about three weeks, the WMO report said, making the heat more unbearable. But, when the rains came they were devastating in limited spells causing heaving flooding from Bihar to Maharashtra to West Bengal to Kerala to Gujarat to eastern Uttar Pradesh.
According to the data maintained by Home Ministry, more than 2,120 people lost their lives because of heavy rains and flooding during 2019 monsoon period, affecting 2.5 million people in 347 districts of 22 states. The highest number of deaths, 339, was reported from Maharashtra followed by 227 from West Bengal.
The IMD climate centre at Pune recorded 560 extreme rainfall events in the monsoon season, which means 150 to 200 mm of rain in 24 hours at a particular location, highest since 1971. In fact, the extreme rainfall events have tripled between 1950 and 2015, analysis of the IMD data showed.
And, when the monsoon finally receded in second week of October, the south-west monsoon had highest rainfall India in the past 25 years. It was 110% of the long period average (LPA) of 880 mm, which the average rainfall received in 50 years leading to 2010, IMD had said in a statement. This was despite there was 30% rain deficient in June, when the monsoon starts its spread over India.
Despite good rain, about 10% of India’s geographical area was under drought including Vidharba in Maharashtra.
If that was not all. India in 2019 was hit by seven cyclones, highest since 1985, with cyclone Fani being the most intense. Of them, four cyclones were in the Arabian Sea in a year, first time since 1902, according to IMD.
2019 also witnessed a rare cyclone activity in the Indian Ocean.
In November, two simultaneous cyclones Maha and Kyarr occurred in Arabian Sea, which the IMD said, was first recorded case since 1965 in the western coast of India. At the same time, cyclone Bulbul also developed over the Bay of Bengal, a rare occurrence, according to the IMD.
Sunita Devi, IMD scientist in-charge of cyclones, said even though the Indian Ocean is very active, seeing seven cyclonic storms in a year and cyclones in both Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal at the same time is uncommon. “This probably because of climate change and warming of seas,” she said.
Come December and the chilly winter in the northern plains is also beating some records.
According to IMD, Delhi is likely to record the second coldest December in a century because of significantly low day temperatures. The mean maximum temperature this month till Thursday was 19.84 degree C.
The lowest mean maximum temperature was recorded in 1997 at 17.3 degree Celsius. The second lowest mean maximum temperature for December was recorded in 1919 and 1929 at 19.8 degree Celsius.
“We are expecting the mean maximum temperature this year to be in the range of 19.5 to 19.6 degree C. But we have to wait and see until December 31,” said Kuldeep Shrivastava, head of regional weather forecasting centre.
A cold wave is declared on basis of minimum temperature on two conditions. First, if minimum is more than 10 degree Celsius and departure from normal for minimum temperature is 5 to 6 degrees, and second, if temperature is less than 10 degree Celsius and departure from normal is 4-5 degrees.
IMD daily temperature monitoring shows that most places in northern India fall in the cold wave category. This weather condition is likely to continue in the New Year.
The WMO’s report sums up the 2019 Indian weather condition well by saying that in the coming years the variability of weather would rise because of increase impact of human activity induced climate change.