India Battles Volatile and Unpredictable Weather

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India Battles Volatile and Unpredictable Weather

Sunday, 21 April 2024 | Archana Jyoti

India Battles Volatile and Unpredictable Weather

Abrupt shifts in weather, as exemplified last week in Delhi swaying from moderate cold conditions one day followed by record-breaking warmth the next, underscore the unpredictability and volatility of regional climates, says ARCHANA JYOTI

The recent forecast by the Indian Meteorological Department predicting above-normal monsoon rainfall brings a glimmer of hope, particularly for agriculture and water resources. However, beneath this layer of optimism lies a stark reality: erratic weather patterns are wreaking havoc across the nation, presenting formidable challenges.

India's climate has become akin to a rollercoaster ride, with unpredictable twists and turns affecting lives from Uttar Pradesh to Gujarat and Kerala to West Bengal. The abrupt shifts in weather, as exemplified by last week’s  Delhi's experience of moderate cold conditions one day followed by record-breaking warmth the next, underscore the unpredictability and volatility of regional climates.

Reflecting on her eight decades of life, 80-year-old Rambha Devi confronts a bitter truth: humanity's reckless treatment of Mother Nature is returning to haunt us. "For too long," she laments, "we've exploited the Earth without considering the consequences of our actions. We've depleted natural resources, polluted the air and waterways, and recklessly disrupted delicate ecosystems around the globe."

Now, as Devi observes, nature is fighting back. The once predictable and reliable weather now seems to operate on capricious whims. Extreme heat waves scorch the land one day, only to be followed by torrential rains and floods the next. Unpredictable storms lash coastlines, leaving devastation in their wake. The rhythm of seasons blurs, leaving farmers like Devi's family uncertain about sowing and reaping times.

Throughout her lifetime, Devi has witnessed the consequences of humanity's disregard for the natural world. Once-vibrant forests were reduced to barren wastelands, rivers choked with pollution, and species pushed to the brink of extinction. Now, as the impacts of climate change intensify, she fears for future generations.

As she gazes upon the world she's known for eight decades, Devi knows the road ahead will be arduous. These fluctuations not only threaten agricultural patterns but also have profound implications for public health and well-being.

Ramesh Tiwari, a farmer from Uttar Pradesh's Ghaziabad, shares how sudden rain and hail storms destroyed his crops, leaving him struggling to support his family. "I've toiled day and night," he says, "only to see it all washed away in minutes." The state saw as many as 7,020 farmers from 50 districts seeking compensation for the damage till March 2. Similar tales emerge from across the nation.

In Maharashtra, Priya, a resident of a drought-prone Vidarbha village, recounts how scorching heatwaves and heavy rainfall disrupt water access and damage local crops, exacerbating food insecurity.

Similarly, Raju Vashaya, a farmer in Rajasthan, describes the challenges of coping with unpredictable weather, making it difficult to predict crop yields and threatening his family's livelihood.

Further, whether it is Assam in the Northeast or down South Kerala, locals face displacement from floods triggered by heavy rainfall and landslides. Their stories reflect the widespread devastation and loss in these regions. Meanwhile, along Gujarat's coastline, Sanjay Joshi, a fisherman, expresses concern about the increasing frequency of cyclones and floods, threatening his livelihood and community safety.

Dr Mrutyunjay Mohapatra, director general of the IMD, explains about the visible trends in extreme weather events. “Globally, temperatures have risen by about 1.2 degrees Celsius compared to 100 years ago. Over India, the rise has been about 0.6 degrees Celsius. The rise has been more in the northern, central, and eastern parts, and less over peninsular India.

“This temperature rise has an impact on extreme weather events. It’s getting hotter not just on the surface, but also in the troposphere, increasing its water-holding capacity. Studies show that with a rise of 1 degree Celsius, moisture-holding capacity increases by about 7 per cent. If the atmosphere can hold more moisture, it will have the capacity to cause more rainfall.”

So, the probability of the occurrence of heavy rainfall has increased. Studies also show an increase in the frequency of heavy rainfall events. These are events when 24-hour cumulative rainfall on a particular day is more than 15 cm. Such events are increasing over the tropical belt as a whole, including in India. This trend is more evident in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Odisha, and West Bengal, he says.

The rise in the average global temperature has hit various countries of the world too. Like the United States of America, all European countries, including China, Japan, Indonesia, Canada, and others are reporting now and then extreme heat waves, droughts, wildfires, record rains, and floods. A recent example has been Dubai in UAE which was caught off guard, as heavy rainfall deluged it.

 The sixth IPCC report released in August 2021, revealed in detail that in the coming decades, winters will get shorter and summers will get longer. Some places will experience an increase in the incidents of drought as a result of heat waves and some places will face floods due to heavy rains.

India has already felt the impact, with rising temperatures affecting 75% of its districts, with heat wave records breaking every year. “We were expecting these changes possibly after 2025, leading on to 2030. But they are happening now, and are likely to get intense and possibly more frequent in coming years,” warns Dr K J Ramesh, former Director General of Meteorology at IMD.

In agricultural regions, these see-sawing weather patterns have started impacting crop cycles, leading to reduced yields, crop failures, and economic losses for farmers. Erratic weather, including unseasonal frosts or heat waves, can disrupt planting and harvesting schedules, affecting food production and livelihoods, says who was at the IMD helm when the country reported several extreme weather events, including Cyclone Fani, the most intense storm over the Bay of Bengal to make landfall on India’s east coast since 1999.

To address erratic and extreme weather challenges, proactive measures are needed at both the local and national levels. This includes investing in climate-resilient agriculture practices, improving weather forecasting and early warning systems, enhancing infrastructure resilience, and implementing measures to mitigate the impacts of extreme weather events on public health, he suggests. Marginalized communities too are all set to face health and income strains amid climate challenges.

Vaibhav Chaturvedi, a fellow at Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), summarises the looming challenges ahead, stating, “Globally, India is the fifth-most vulnerable country. While the frequency and intensity of extreme events are increasing, we are left with less than a decade to adhere to the Sendai Framework; course correction needs to have a razor-sharp focus on curtailing the compounded impacts of climate extremes. There is no denying that the climate is changing and it is changing fast.”

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