Living in Warmer Times

The IMD forecast for the summer is in, and we are headed for a brutish summer this year. Looking at the larger picture, is this an indication of a bigger trend at play?

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Along with the second wave of Covid-19, another wave is garnering attention in India- heatwave. If the current weather has got you perspiring, it’s only going to get worse from here on. The sun will be merciless to us this summer if the reports of IMD are to be believed. The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) portends scorching summers for India in its “Seasonal Outlook for temperatures for March to May 2021” report. The forecast points to an especially hot summer for North, North-West, and parts of East India, with day temperatures administering above normal mercury levels. South and Central India will have it better; temperatures are expected to be normal or below normal during the night for the most part in the region. This prediction made by IMD has been possible by studying initial weather conditions in February and previous temperature records between 2003–2018.

A rise of over 4 degrees in temperature is classified as a heatwave. Heatwaves are common in the Core Heatwave Zone (CHZ) areas. These are mainly the Indo-Gangetic plains covering Haryana, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, and Chandigarh. These states are expected to record anywhere near 0.71°C rise with respect to the long period average (LPA). The states of Chattisgarh, Odisha, and parts of Maharashtra will see a temperature rise between 0.25–0.86°C in comparison to normal LPA. More comments on the frequency and intensity of heatwaves this summer can be made only as the season progresses.

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This forecast is part of a bigger trend visible in recent years. Did you know that the period 2011–2020 was the hottest decade on record? And to top that, 2020 is posited to be the hottest year in recorded history along with the year 2016, according to NASA. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) puts the year 2020 at the second position, with 2016 at number one. The difference in the ranks of the two agencies can be attributed to the divergence in their methodology. NOAA does not factor in the temperature record over the Arctic while NASA does. The Arctic is warming three times faster than the global average, which makes it an important player in global temperature rise. In fact, the 2020s hotspot was in Siberia, with temperature in Verkhoyansk, a Siberian town, touching 100°F. Also, the baseline period the two agencies are referring to are different, with NASA considering the period 1951–1981 and NOAA using the baseline 1901–2000. The year 2020 was 1.04°C degrees Celsius warmer than the NASA baseline of 1951–1981. Even according to NOAA data, 2020 falls behind 2016 by a small difference of 0.4°F.

El Niño phenomenon has a significant influence on the annual temperature recording. El Niño brings about warmer temperatures and is usually responsible for the high-temperature rise in a given year. Interestingly, 2016 saw the El Niño effect, which contributed to a rise in temperature but 2020 did not have one. This goes to show that there are bigger factors at play here. The Australian bush fires last year that burnt through 46 million acres of land covered the earth’s surface, walling off sunlight, making surface temperatures cooler. Meanwhile, Covid-19 induced shutdowns worldwide led to a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. But the effect was ephemeral and relaxations in lockdowns led to a return to normal emission levels.

Whether 2020 tops the chart or not is inconsequential. The point is that it is in line with the growing pattern of warmer global temperatures. Earlier, records were broken every eight to eleven years. Now, they are breaking every three to four years.

This burgeoning temperature rise is not plausible without anthropogenic intervention, meaning that humans are solely responsible for this outcome.

The year-on-year increase in temperatures is nature’s way of showing the mirror to mankind.  Keeping tabs on global temperature rise prepares us for inevitable climate change, and at the same time pushes us to think of out-of-the-box ideas to contain the rise. The world today faces the predicament of walking a tightrope between sustainability and development. Now, more than ever, we as a race need to atone for the pain we have inflicted on nature. Brains capable of technological wonders can surely come up with ways to alleviate the climate change crisis. Everything is intertwined in nature. A rise in temperatures will lead to a rise in seawater levels due to the melting of glaciers, mass extinction of aquatic animals due to warmer oceanic environment, and but not limited to, the loss of biodiversity by way of increasingly intense forest fires. Extinctions will disturb the natural food chain and will have a cascading effect by driving more extinction.