High incidence of extreme weather conditions, set to grow in the future, has posed challenges for weather forecasting mechanisms. India must up its game
Dust storms coupled with rains are a normal feature during the summer months in the country. But this year, the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) was forced to issue a warning as the possibilities of severe dust storms with winds reaching above 100 km per hour seemed imminent. As a precautionary step, several schools across Haryana were shut for two days and the Government issued public advisory for the people to remain indoors.
Eventually, Delhi and the National Capital Region did not witness much storm rampage, causing many to question the hype and anxiety of it all, but it is nearly impossible to pin point the exact landfall of a storm and predict how hard it will hit. Keeping this in mind, the IMD did the right thing to err on the safer side than getting caught off guard, especially when it is a matter of life and property.
As the IMD’s predictions were made light in Delhi and NCR, people in other parts of north India, who were caught in the cross hairs of the dust storm and severe rain amid fierce winds, did not find it amusing.
The people of Rajasthan for instance, witnessed a dust storm that they had never witnessed before. Affected regions of Bharatpur and Deeg were littered with fallen trees, branches and electric poles. Every second tree had been damaged by the storm. In the most affected region in every other house, tin roofs and overhead plastic tanks had flown to far off places. The damage in Rajasthan and other places was such that within a short time, nearly 5,000 electric poles were uprooted. Such was the fury of the storm. Had this hit a city like Delhi with high intensity of population per square kilometer, the damage to life and property would have been colossal.
These severe dust storms, thunderstorms and lightning affecting five States of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana, Uttarakhand and Punjab, exacted a human toll of at least 124 people being killed and injuring nearly 300. The worse news is that this sequence of events may just be the beginning of a trend in extreme weather events that may soon become the norm across India, thanks to climate change.
Over the past few years, a rise in global temperature has set new records and this is leading to an increase in the number of extreme weather events. India may also witness an increase in the severity and frequency of dust storms and thunderstorms similar to what the northern Indian States are experiencing. Given these conditions, Government agencies, private forecasters and independent experts share a similar sentiment on the issue and predict an increase in the possibility of such events in the future.
Recently, a report released by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of the US Government stated that the global surface temperature of the earth in 2017 was the second warmest in the recorded history since 1880. To make matters worse, the trend seems to be continuing. According to the US Government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), global temperature in January this year was the fifth highest for the month since 1880.
As this becomes a norm, there is an urgent need to get behind the cause of these extreme natural events and understand how they take shape and what are the causative and contributory factors. Research on the correlation between dust storms, thunderstorms and climate change is on the back foot as far as India is concerned. In fact, at times, the concerned departments have not been able to act fast enough in the face of an impending extreme natural event.
Countries such as China and the US have already advanced simulation models that have been constructed over years of research that are not only able to predict with appreciable levels of accuracy the time and location of the next extreme weather event, but also contribute data towards further and better understand of these natural events. India is lagging behind in these spheres of pro-active research and development.
The Government must ensure that relevant departments within IMD are empowered and mandated to undertake meaningful research into the subject of dust storms and thunderstorms during summer months and their correlation with climate change. In order to ensure this, the concerned departments must build robust grass root level data collection centers, as dependable primary data is crucial for any productive research. These collection centers must focus on pollution levels, ambient temperatures and frequency of the storms. This measures will also script a change in how well we are prepared for the next extreme weather event.
(The writer is an environmental journalist)
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