Heatwave Occurrences Increasing in India



    • A recent analysis by the Mahamana Centre of Excellence in Climate Change Research (MCECCR) at Banaras Hindu University (BHU), in collaboration with the Department of Science and Technology and the Ministry of Earth Sciences, has found a spatial shift of heatwaves in India, with this weather event now occurring in new regions in the country.
      • The MCECCR study has looked at temperature data of pre-monsoon (March-May) and early summer monsoon (June-July) seasons from the India Meteorological Department, spanning 65 years from 1951-2016, to assess the monthly, seasonal, decadal and long-term trends in heatwaves in the country.

    Major Points of study 

    •  It has found a warming pattern over northwestern and southern India, while a progressive cooling phase over northeastern and southwest regions of the country.
    • During the period 1961–2010, from March-July, the highest number of heatwave days were experienced over the northwestern, northern, central, and eastern coastal regions, with an average of eight heatwave days and 1-3 severe heatwave days during the season.
      • The eastern and western coasts, which are currently unaffected by heatwaves, will be severely impacted in the future.
    • The study has revealed a “Spatio-temporal shift” in the occurrence of heatwave events, with a significantly increasing trend in three prominent heatwave prone regions northwestern, central, and south-central India, with the highest being in west Madhya Pradesh (0.80 events/year).
    • Both heat waves and severe heat waves are increasing — and they are finding new locations where these events are taking place, especially in the last two decades. 
    • It found heatwaves in southern Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, where they would traditionally not take place.
    • The study has also found a significant decrease in heat waves over the eastern region, that is Gangetic West Bengal (−0.13events/year).
    • Elements involved in exacerbating heatwave conditions: the increase in nighttime temperatures, which disallows heat discharge at night, and increasing humidity levels
    • Impacts  : The analysis has further found a jump in heat-related deaths, from 5,330 deaths reported during 1978–1999 to extreme cases of 3,054 and 2,248 deaths in 2003 and 2015, respectively.

    Heat Waves 

    • Heatwaves are defined as prolonged episodes of extreme temperature over any region. 
      • Apart from temperature, humidity is an important parameter considered for declaring heat-related stress.
    • A Heat Wave is a period of abnormally high temperatures, more than the normal maximum temperature that occurs during the summer season in the North-Western parts of India in the month of March to June. 
    • Factors: The possible factors responsible for Heat Waves include shifting of jet streams, El-Nino and La-Nina, anthropogenic factors like heat islands etc. 
    • Heatwave is considered if the maximum temperature of a station reaches: 
      • at least 40 degrees C or more for Plains 
      • at least 30 degrees C or more for Hilly regions

    Categories of Heat Wave

    • Based on Departure from Normal 
      • Heat Wave: Departure from normal is 4.5 degrees C to 6.4 degrees C 
      • Severe Heat Wave: Departure from normal is >6.4 degrees C 
    • Based on Actual Maximum Temperature 
      • Heat Wave: When actual maximum temperature ≥ 45 degrees C 
      • Severe Heat Wave: When actual maximum temperature ≥47 degrees C 

    Favourable conditions for Heat Wave

    • Transportation / Prevalence of hot dry air over a region (There should be a region of warm dry air and an appropriate flow pattern for transporting hot air over the region).
    • Absence of moisture in the upper atmosphere (As the presence of moisture restricts the temperature rise).
    • The sky should be practically cloudless (To allow maximum insulation over the region).
    • Large amplitude anticyclonic flow over the area.
      • Heatwaves generally develop over Northwest India and spread gradually eastwards & southwards but not westwards (since the prevailing winds during the season are westerly to north westerly). 
      • But on some occasions, heat waves may also develop over any region in situ under the favourable conditions.


    Image Courtesy: News18


    Implications of Heat Waves

    • It leads to physiological stress, which sometimes can claim human life. 
    • There are five physiological mechanisms that are triggered by heat exposure: 
      • Ischemia (reduced and restricted blood flow), 
      • heat cytotoxicity (cell death), 
      • inflammatory response (swelling), 
      • disseminated intravascular coagulation (abnormal blood clotting), and 
      • rhabdomyolysis (breakdown of muscle fibres).
    • These mechanisms affect seven vital organs: The brain, heart, intestines, kidneys, liver, lungs and pancreas. 
    • There are 27 lethal combinations of these mechanisms and organs that have been shown to be caused by heat.
    • Severe heat waves have caused catastrophic crop failures, thousands of deaths from hyperthermia, and widespread power outages due to increased use of air conditioning.
    • The signs and symptoms are as follows:
      • Heat Cramps: Ederna (swelling) and Syncope (Fainting) generally accompanied by fever below 39°C i.e.102°F.
      • Heat Exhaustion: Fatigue, weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea, vomiting, muscle cramps and sweating.
      • Heat Stroke: Body temperatures of 40°C i.e. 104°F or more along with delirium, seizures or coma. This is a potential fatal condition.
    • Exposure to heatwaves compromises the body’s ability to regulate temperature and can result in a cascade of illnesses, including heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and hyperthermia.
    • It affects the transmission of diseases, health service delivery, air quality, and critical social infrastructures such as energy, transport, and water.

    Strategies To Address Heat Waves

    • Establishment of  Early Warning System and Inter-Agency Coordination for prediction of heatwaves and issuance of alert. 
    • Public Awareness and community outreach to increase public awareness on how to protect against extreme heat through different mediums. 
    • Capacity building and training programme for health care professionals at different levels to recognize and respond to heatwave related illnesses. 
    • Collaboration with non-government organisations (NGOs) and civil society to provide support in distress situations.
    • Encourage traditional methods of handling heat waves like wearing cotton clothes etc.
    • Reviewing labour laws and other regulations taking climatic conditions into account.
    • Improving the infrastructure setup like including shadowed windows, insulated houses etc.

    Additional information 

    • El Nino
      • This is a name given to the periodic development of a warm ocean current along the coast of Peru as a temporary replacement of the cold Peruvian current.
      • ‘El Nino’ is a Spanish word meaning ‘the child’, and refers to the baby Christ, as this current starts flowing during Christmas.
      •  The presence of the El Nino leads to an increase in sea-surface temperatures and a weakening of the trade winds in the region
      • In a normal monsoon year (without El Nino), the pressure distribution along the coast of Peru in South America has a higher pressure than the region near northern Australia and South East Asia.
    • India Meteorological Department (IMD)
      • It was established in 1875.
      • It is an agency of the Ministry of Earth Sciences of the Government of India.
      • It is the principal agency responsible for meteorological observations, weather forecasting and seismology.
      • IMD has been continuously redefining its focus for accurate Prediction of Monsoon and cyclones as our GDP is mainly based on agriculture.
    • Initiatives of weather predictions
    • Mausam App: It is a new mobile application called “Mausam” for the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) which will help users track weather updates and also bring in the enhanced forecast as well as warning services from the government.
    • Meghdoot App: The Ministries of Earth Sciences and Agriculture have launched a mobile application that will provide the location, and crop and livestock-specific weather-based agro advisories to farmers in local languages
    • Damini App: The Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM)  launched ‘Damini’, a free mobile-based application that can warn people about lightning at least 30-45 minutes before it strikes.


    Sources: IE