Extreme weather playing havoc

Hyderabad: People remove an uprooted tree which had blocked a street, after a thunderstorm in Hyderabad on Thursday. PIT Photo (PTI5_3_2018_000127B)

The severe sandstorms and thunderstorms that hit parts of northern and western India last week were an unusual weather phenomenon of rare fury, hardly seen in the past. Many areas in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan were badly hit. Over 115 people died and many more injured. The next day an equally unexpected burst of heavy rain killed 10 people in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Another dust storm and squall hit Delhi and the north-western parts of the country two days ago, disrupting normal life and causing a lot of damage. There was extensive damage to crops. Schools were closed. Some emergency measures were taken after the India Meteorological Department (IMD) issued alerts. But in the case of last week’s storms no alerts had been issued because IMD thought the disturbances would occur in the Bay of Bengal. That shows how wrong predictions could be, especially about unseasonal and unexpected weather events.

Such natural catastrophes, about which even short-term forecasts are not easy to make, are considered to be caused by global warming. The explanation is that high moisture levels in the atmosphere, circulation of air at elevated altitudes and high temperatures combined to give rise to the storms that caused so much loss of lives and property. With temperatures set to rise all over the world in the coming years, despite all the talk and efforts to mitigate the effects of global warming, more such extreme weather events should be expected. The cyclone Okhi which took over 200 lives last year in Kerala and Tamil Nadu has also been explained in terms of climate change. The IMD had warned of a hotter summer this year with temperatures rising by 0.5 to 1 degree Celsius. This can cause many disasters other than storms and rains too.

Changes in weather patterns will have serious consequences for agriculture. Crops and their cycles will be impacted. Rain may turn out to be excessive or deficient. The nature of soil may change and there will be more desertification and deforestation. A lot of this has been predicted but the threat arising from global warming is still not taken seriously. All countries, including India, have to take steps to fight the threat. But measures to deal with the manifestations of the threat should also receive greater attention. They include improved warning systems, stronger infrastructure and buildings which can withstand greater pressure, better disaster relief systems and provisions for adequate compensation for those who suffer losses. Since the unusual is becoming the norm, there is the need to prepare for the worst to happen at any time.

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