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Rise of extreme weather events

Context:

  • Recently a dust storm has hit Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan in the beginning of May 2018.

Background:

  • Over 100 people were killed and more than 180 injured when a dust storm created havoc in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan leaving behind a trial of destruction.
  • The Meteorological Department has also issued warnings that another dust storm may hit parts of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan in the next 48hrs.

Dust storms:

1)Dust storms arise when a gust front or other strong wind blows loose sand and dirt from a dry surface. Fine particles are transported by saltation and suspension, a process that moves soil from one place and deposits it in another.

2)Dust storms are a common meteorological phenomenon in arid regions, like northern India. In regions that are naturally dry, or have become so due to poor environmental management and unsustainable farming practices, strong winds cause sand and dust to blow into the air, making breathing and seeing difficult, if not dangerous.

3)Dust storms are not just dangerous because of high winds, they are also known to spread disease and urban pollution throughout a region. Damage to the respiratory system from a dust storm can cause asthma, lung cancer, or a unique phenomenon known as dust pneumonia.

4)In case of a dust storm, due to excessive heating, the water from the clouds evaporates before it could land. So soil is dry and the severe winds lift up this soil up to 500 metres above the land.The wind speed can rise up to 100 kmph and in some case it can reach 130 kmph making conditions severe.

Cause and course of the dust storm:

1)Dust storms are an annual weather pattern seen in the region.

2)There were primarily four reasons that lead to the thunderstorm — excessive heating, availability of moisture, instability in atmosphere and a trigger for the storm

3)The northern plains have been witnessing temperatures of over 40 degree Celsius. There were two sources of moisture –a western disturbance over north Pakistan and adjoining Jammu and Kashmir and easterly winds from the Bay of Bengal

4)The cold winds from the western disturbance was making atmosphere unstable.

5)A cyclonic circulation over Haryana was the trigger for the deadly dust storm that swept parts of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.

6)This led to the formation of two cloud patches.One patch moved to north of Delhi, while another patch moved over the Alwar, Agra, and Dholpur belt, which was more deadly.

7)This dust storm was unique in the sense that events occurred over a large geographical area within a very short time.

Damage Caused by the dust storm:

1)A number of houses collapsed killing people who were asleep.

2)Electricity poles and trees were uprooted due to the high velocity winds

3)Livestock were also,destroyed, putting the farmers of the region into a precarious situation. At least 160 animals were found dead

Extreme weather events:

  • Extreme weather events are out of the ordinary, unexpected, unusual climatic events which wreak havoc and disrupt everyday life.
  • Over the years, the frequency of extreme weather events has increased due to global warming and climate change.
  • Extreme weather events include hailstorm, heatwaves, dust storm, cloud bursts etc.

Extreme weather events in India so far this year:

1)On April 12, unusually heavy rains and thunderstorms claimed 42 lives in western Uttar Pradesh and eastern Rajasthan.

2)Intense rainfall wreaked havoc in Himachal Pradesh early April where around 15-20 animals perished in a cloudburst incident in Shimla district. Heavy rain coupled with hailstorm caused huge loss to the standing wheat crop in the lower regions and apple crop in Shimla district.

3)While Rayalaseema region of Andhra Pradesh sizzled at about 43 degree Celsius on May 1, with seven people dying due to sunstroke, at least 11 people were killed in several parts of north coastal Andhra Pradesh due to heavy downpour accompanied by lightning.

4)Earlier in February, hailstorms, unseasonal rains damaged 4.76 lakh hectares of crop in Punjab, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Telangana and Karnataka.  Around 300,000 hectares of crops like jowar, gram, wheat and horticulture crops like orange, grapes, bananas and vegetables were damaged in Maharashtra alone.

Other environmental risks:

1)Climate change related risks will increasingly affect the Indian subcontinent, including via sea level rise, cyclonic activity and changes in temperature and precipitation patterns.

2) Rising sea levels would submerge low-lying islands and coastal lands and contaminate coastal freshwater reserves.Climate change will increase the risks of death, injury and ill-health and disrupt livelihoods in low-lying coastal zones due to cyclones and coastal and inland flooding, storm surges and sea-level rise.

3)Melting Himalayan glaciers would reduce downstream water supply in many of India’s important rivers in the dry season, impacting millions

4)A warmer atmosphere will spread tropical diseases and pests to new areas.

5)Increased river, coastal and urban floods could cause considerable loss of life and widespread damage to property, infrastructure and settlements.

6)Erratic rainfall in parts of India could lower rice yields and lead to higher food prices and living costs, while increased drought related water and food shortages linked to rising and extreme temperatures may increase malnutrition and worsen rural poverty. Over 55% of Indian rural households depend on agriculture for a living and, with fisheries and forestry,

Systems in place to tackle extreme weather events are as follows:

1)Meteorological predictions

2)Contingency fund

3)Early warning to citizens

4)NDMA has issued an action plan for Prevention and Management of Heat Waves.

5)Remote sensing satellites.

Problems with accurate meteorological predictions are as follows:

1)Meteorological predictions are considered for broad geographical areas and timeframes. It is not yet possible to predict a thunderstorm or lightning at a village or a part of a city.

2)The exact times these events will hit, too, cannot be predicted.

3)Alerts and warnings are in the nature of a general advisory, telling the people to expect these events, and to take precautions

Steps taken by the government are as follows:

Rajasthan:

(i)storm has been included in the category of natural disasters for the first time in the State and funds to the tune of ₹2.55 crore have been sanctioned to the affected districts.

(ii)The next of kin of each deceased in Rajasthan will get financial assistance of ₹4 lakh from the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund.

(iii)Power discoms have launched action on a war-footing to restore electricity supply in the affected areas, while the administration has ordered a survey of damaged properties.

(iv)In Dholpur district, relief camps have been opened for the villagers whose houses were destroyed.

Uttar Pradesh:

(i)The Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister has announced a compensation of up to Rs 400,000 to the families of the deceased and Rs 50,000 for each of the injured in the heavy rainfall and storm across the state.

(ii)contingency funds have been released to the respective district administration.

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