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Unrelenting Heat Wave Triggers Warnings of Water Shortages and Heatstroke in India

The Indian peninsula has seen a drastic change in rainfall patterns over the past decade, marked by frequent droughts, floods and sudden storms

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india temperatures, heat wave
An Indian boy pours water on himself as he tries to cool himself off amid rising temperatures in New Delhi, May 29, 2019. Temperatures pushed toward 50 degrees Celsius across much of India on June 1. VOA

Temperatures passed 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) in northern India on Saturday as an unrelenting heatwave triggered warnings of water shortages and heatstroke.

The thermometer hit 50.6 degrees Celsius (123 Fahrenheit) in the Rajasthan desert city of Churu, the weather department said.

All of Rajasthan suffered in severe heat, with several cities hitting maximum temperatures above 47 Celsius.

In May 2016, Phalodi in Rajasthan recorded India’s highest-ever temperature of 51 Celsius (123.8 Fahrenheit).

The Indian Meteorological Department said severe heat could stay for up to a week across Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh states.

Several deaths from heatstroke have already been recorded.

heat wave, india temperatures
Indian residents queue with plastic containers to get drinking water from a tanker in the outskirts of Chennai, May 29, 2019. An unrelenting heat wave triggered warnings of water shortages and heatstroke in India on June 1. VOA

A red alert severe heat warning was issued in New Delhi as temperatures passed 46 Celsius, and residents were advised not to go out during the hottest hours of the day.

Even in the hill state of Himachal Pradesh, where many wealthy Indians go to escape the summer heat, temperatures reached 44.9 Celsius in Una.

Several major cities, led by Chennai, have reported fears of water shortages as lakes and rivers start to dry up.

Farmers worry

In the western state of Maharashtra, farmers struggled to find water for thirsty animals and crops.

“We have to source water tankers from nearby villages as water reserves, lakes and rivers have dried up,” said Rajesh Chandrakant, a resident of Beed, one of the worst-hit districts. “Farmers only get water every three days for their livestock.”

Raghunath Tonde, a farmer with a family of seven, said the area has suffered worsening shortages for five years.

heat wave, india temperatures
Indian youths cool off in the Ana Sagar lake during a hot day in Ajmer, in Rjasthan state, May 31, 2019. India has been battling a fierce heat wave that has prompted warnings about water shortages and heatstroke. VOA

“There is no drinking water available for days on end, and we get one tanker every three days for the entire village,” Tonde told AFP. “We are scared for our lives and livelihood.”

The Hindustan Times said many Beed residents had stopped washing and cleaning clothes because of the water shortage.

More than 40 percent of India faces drought this year, experts from Gandhinagar city’s Indian Institute of Technology warned last month.

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The annual monsoon — which normally brings much-needed rain to South Asia — is running a week behind schedule and is expected to hit India’s southern tip on June 6, the weather department said.

Private forecaster Skymet has said there will be less rain than average this year. The Indian peninsula has seen a drastic change in rainfall patterns over the past decade, marked by frequent droughts, floods and sudden storms. (VOA)

Next Story

Heat Wave over Greenland Accelerating Melting of Island’s Ice Sheet

The area of the Greenland ice sheet that is showing indications of melt has been growing daily, and hit a record 56.5%

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Heat Wave, Greenland, Island
FILE - Melt water lakes are seen on the edge of an ice cap in Nunatarssuk, Greenland, in this aerial view taken on June 22, 2019. VOA

The heat wave that smashed high temperature records in five European countries a week ago is now over Greenland, accelerating the melting of the island’s ice sheet and causing massive ice loss in the Arctic.

Greenland, the world’s largest island, is a semi-autonomous Danish territory between the Atlantic and Arctic oceans that has 82% of its surface covered in ice.

The area of the Greenland ice sheet that is showing indications of melt has been growing daily, and hit a record 56.5% for this year on Wednesday, said Ruth Mottram, a climate scientist with the Danish Meteorological Institute. She says that’s expected to expand and peak on Thursday before cooler temperatures slow the pace of the melt.

More than 10 billion tons (11 billion U.S. tons) of ice was lost to the oceans by surface melt on Wednesday alone, creating a net mass ice loss of some 197 billion tons (217 billion U.S. tons) from Greenland in July, she said.

Heat Wave, Greenland, Island
The heat wave that smashed high temperature records in five European countries a week ago is now over Greenland, accelerating the melting of the island’s ice sheet. Pixabay

”It looks like the peak will be today. But the long-term forecast is for continuing warm and sunny weather in Greenland, so that means the amount of the ice loss will continue,” she said Thursday in a telephone interview from Copenhagen.

The scope of Wednesday’s ice melt is a number difficult to grasp. To understand just how much ice is being lost, a mere 1 billion tons — or 1 gigaton — of ice loss is equivalent to about 400,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools, the Danish Meteorological Institute said.  And 100 billion tons (110 billion U.S. tons) corresponds to a 0.28 mm (0.01 inch) rise in global sea levels.

Mottram said since June 1 — roughly the start of the ice-loss season — the Greenland ice sheet has lost 240 gigatons (240 billion metric tons) this year. That compares with 290 gigatons lost overall in the 2012 melt season, which usually goes through the end of August.

A June 2019 study by scientists in the U.S. and Denmark said melting ice in Greenland alone will add between 5 and 33 centimeters (2 to 13 inches) to rising global sea levels by the year 2100. If all the ice in Greenland melted — which would take centuries — the world’s oceans would rise by 7.2 meters (23 feet, 7 inches), the study found.

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The current melting has been brought on by the arrival of the same warm air from North Africa and Spain that melted European cities and towns last week, setting national temperature records in Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Britain.

In Russia, meanwhile, forest fires caused by hot, dry weather and spread by high winds are raging over nearly 30,000 square kilometers (11,580 sq. miles) of territory in Siberia and the Russian Far East, an area the size of Belgium. The smoke from these fires, some of them in Arctic territory, is so heavy it can easily be seen in satellite photos and is causing air quality problems in Russia’s third-largest city, Novosibirsk. Protesters in Moscow on Thursday were demanding that the government do more to fight the blazes.

Greenland has also been battling a slew of Arctic wildfires, something that Mottram said was uncommon in the past.

In Greenland, the melt area this year is the second-biggest in terms of ice area affected, behind more than 90% in 2012, said Mark Serreze, director of the Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, which monitors ice sheets globally. Records go back to 1981.

Heat Wave, Greenland, Island
Greenland, the world’s largest island, is a semi-autonomous Danish territory between the Atlantic and Arctic oceans that has 82% of its surface covered in ice. Pixabay

A lot of what melts can later refreeze onto the ice sheet, but because of the conditions ahead of this summer’s heat wave, the amount of ice lost for good this year might be the same as in 2012 or more, according to scientists.  They noted a long build up to this summer’s ice melt — including higher overall temperatures for months — and a very dry winter with little snow in many places, which would normally offer some protection to glacier ice.

”This is certainly a weather event superimposed on this overall trend of warmer conditions” that have increasingly melted Greenland ice over the long term, Serreze said.

Compounding the melt, the Greenland ice sheet started out behind this year because of the low ice and snow accumulation, said Snow and Ice Data Center scientist Twila Moon.

With man-made climate change, “there’s a potential for these kind of rates to become more common 50 years from now,” Moon said.

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Heat waves have always occurred, but Mike Sparrow, a spokesman for the U.N. World Meteorological Organization, noted that as global temperatures have risen, extreme heat waves are now occurring at least 10 times more frequently than a century ago. This year, the world saw its hottest month of June ever.

”These kind of heat waves are weather events and can occur naturally but studies have shown that both the frequency and intensity of these heat waves have increased due to global warming,” Sparrow said in a telephone interview from Geneva.

He noted that sea ice spread in the Arctic and Antarctic are both currently at record lows.

”When people talk about the average global temperature increasing by a little more than 1 degree [Celsius], that’s not a huge amount to notice if you’re sitting in Hamburg or London, but that’s a global average and it’s much greater in the polar regions,” he said.

Even though temperatures will be going down in Greenland by the end of this week, the ice melt is not likely to stop anytime soon, Mottram said.

”Over the last couple of days, you could see the warm wave passing over Greenland,” she said. “That peak of warm air has passed over the summit of the ice sheet, but the clear skies are almost as important, or maybe even more important, for the total melt of the ice sheet.”

She added that clear skies are likely to continue in Greenland “so we can still get a lot of ice melt even if the temperature is not spectacularly high.” (VOA)