Extreme weather conditions have become such a part of life all across the world over the last decade and more, that ways and means to understand and cope with them have become an essential element of survival strategies. Heatwaves in summer, cold waves in winter and extreme rainfall when it is least expected have almost become the norm. Each of these rounds takes its own toll on lives and livelihoods even as those in other areas are forced to stand as mute spectators. This summer in India, the number of lives lost to heatwave conditions has exceeded 2,000. While shrinking winter-spans are considered by specialists as a sure sign that climate change is a reality we cannot ignore, at the other end of the spectrum, hot summers are no less debilitating. Prediction of these phenomena is itself so difficult, not for lack of effort but because of the theoretical limitations of the models being used in the calculations. Broadly speaking, there is no doubt that summer heat is worsening by the year in parts of India. This fact is reflected in some climate studies. For instance, one on climate in the subcontinent over the period from 1961 to 2010 by scientists of the India Meteorological Department based in Pune and Chennai, found that compared to the first four decades, the number of heat-wave (HW) days per season was higher during 2001-2010 in many parts of north, north-west and central India. An increase was observed in the number of severe-heat-wave (SHW) days per season in some stations, mainly in north-west India. The study also found that the frequency, persistence and area coverage of HW/SHW days were more than average in years succeeding El Nin~o years.
The question remains whether humankind is preparing for eventualities such as this. For those in denial of climate change, there are clear pointers that cannot be ignored. Also, from the point of view of disaster mitigation, the rising number of heatwave related deaths should serve as an urgent signal to develop innovative methods to control summer-time losses. It is somewhat ironical that while the long, hot summer takes such a toll, in this subcontinent it is also a necessary condition for the monsoon to set in and provide adequate rainfall. In a sense, the unendurable heat and the rains that follow are tied together in a delicate balance. While it is important to preserve this balance by focussing on factors to mitigate climate change, it is also necessary to develop methods to cope with the impact of each of these when they go beyond normal.
Keywords: India heatwave, heatwave, extreme weather conditions
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