Gobar Times
Cover Story


Something’s not quite right

It’s strange weather. Summer’s here, but the chill continues. It’s still too early for the monsoons, but it’s been raining like there’s no tomorrow.

Newspapers say that farmers are killing themselves across India, because they have lost their crops (and their life’s savings) to freak weather–heavy rains and hailstorms when there should have been none.

What’s this weather? Why is it so? My grandpa is surprised to see it raining at this time of the year–and so heavily too.

Seventy-five years old, he thinks this is freak weather, and blames the gods for it.

I told him what my school teacher had explained a day ago – about extreme weather events, and how climate change is leading to many such events across the country and the world.

Together, we looked back at some of these freaky disasters.



Freaky certainty

The 21st century will witness a likely increase in the frequency of heavy rain. Heat waves

Heat waves
have nearly 90 to 100 per cent probability of becoming more intense with a rise in their duration and frequency over most areas.

Tropical cyclone
Cyclones, or typhoons or hurricanes, are likely to have stronger wind speed in future.

Odd? Maybe not…

Extreme weather events, my teacher had said, are unusual, freaky weather incidents. Sudden heavy rainfall, heat waves, droughts, floods, cyclones, and extremely cold spells – all qualify as such events if they are intense. Say, a city gets the entire season’s average rainfall in just one day! It happened in Mumbai, in 2005. Imagine gulping down your entire month’s breakfast in a day!

Usually, such incidents lead to a lot of deaths and destruction of property where they occur.

Is the Earth’s fever to be blamed?

Our planet is becoming warmer with each passing day, which is bringing about a lot of changes in the local weather. Land and ocean temperatures have risen by 0.85 degree Celsius, says the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The scientists on this panel now agree that the changing climate is leading to changes in the frequency, intensity, spatial extent, duration and timing of extreme weather events.

Climate change, however, cannot entirely be blamed for these extreme weather events. We human beings are also at fault. Emissions from our industries, cars and other products lead to global warming. Our ways of development trigger catastrophes – for example, the floods in Mumbai or Srinagar became so disastrous because we constructed buildings on or close to these cities’ water bodies – choking them and making sure the flood waters couldn’t drain away!



RANDOM rains

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 5th Assessment Report report warns us to be prepared for more intense and frequent rainfall and cloudbursts.

The rains began that day in Mumbai at 11 am, and just wouldn’t stop. Floods drowned the city; 450 people died. The water did not recede for three long days. Diseases like malaria, cholera and diarrhea followed in the city.

Urban flooding has been on the rise in India since 2005. From 10 in that year, the number of cities affected by severe floods rose to 37 in 2010. Can we blame the climate for it? Maybe. Experts in the state of Jammu and Kashmir (which saw massive floods in 2014 and 2015) say the number of rainy days and the intensity of rainfall will be increasing in future, with an accompanying rise in temperature.In Mumbai, scientists say rainfall has increased since 2001 – due to a change in the ‘lapse rate’. What’s this? Well, the lapse rate determines the growth of clouds. With cooling of air in upper atmosphere and warming in the lower atmosphere, the lapse rate goes up steeply, leading to more clouds – and more intense rains.

Of course, it’s not only climate. We humans have done our bit in bringing the heavens pouring on to our heads. In Srinagar (Jammu and Kashmir) and in Mumbai, we have built our buildings on lakes, rivers and wetlands, blocking the way to let rainwater flow naturally. These water bodies were the drains of the city. When it rains, the water has no place to go – and it floods the city!


Where: Mumbai

When: July 26, 2005

Freaky factor: The city received 944 mm of rainfall – the average amount that it usually
gets in one whole season – in just ONE DAY!

What’s a cloudburst?

It’s a sudden, heavy downpour – of over 100 mm per hour – falling over a small area in a short time. Usually seen in mountainous regions, cloudbursts happen when warm moisture laden clouds mingle with cold currents.

How did the name come about? In the past, people believed that clouds were like huge balloons, filled with water. In a cloudburst, the balloon would literally come apart, unloading torrents of water.

< BALCONY VIEW: Delhi Public
School, Srinagar student Suhaib Mir had a long time off from school in 2014: “There was complete shutdown for the next two months.”

Kashmir was revisited by devastating floods once again this year.



Where: Odisha and Andhra Pradesh

When: October 12, 2013

Freaky factor: Its intensity – maximum wind speed of 215 km/hour, followed by incessant rains and floods.

What’s a hailstorm?

It’s a storm or downpour of heavy hail. The pellets of ice are formed when small current of rising air in thunderstorms carry raindrops upward to extremely cold areas of the atmosphere.

A hailstone the size of a baseball falls at the speed of about 161 km per hour (you probably drive your car at a maximum of 100 km/hour), and can do massive damage to cars or injure people!


STORM warning

On an average, 80 tropical cyclones are formed every year in the world. They have always been there, but the freaky factor is their increasing intensity. Scientists say cyclones are getting more intense, and hence, more devastating.

A ishwarya Pattnaik, a 17-year-old student of DAV School, Bhubaneswar, is a regular visitor to Gopalpur, a coastal town in Odisha.

When she went there last year, she could “barely recognise the places that had existed before”. Cyclone Phailin had wreaked havoc. “Many of the structures had completely disappeared,” recollected Aishwarya. What’s with these cyclones? Tropical cyclones (such as Phailin) are born over warm tropical oceans – but only when the sea-surface temperature is above 26.5°C. Extreme weather events like Tropical Cyclones in many parts of Asia have been attributed to the naturally occurring phenomenon El Niño – Southern Oscillation (ENSO). It is the event of dancing of warm water in equatorial waters of the Pacific. Then why the fuss about global warming and these monstrous storms? Globally, the intensity of tropical cyclones is slated to increase. Researchers in a study published in Nature Geoscience in 2010 predicted that tropical cyclones will become stronger with intensity increase of 2-11 per cent by 2100.

“The intense tropical cyclones have increased in frequency over the North Indian Ocean,” shared, Dr M Rajeevan, director, Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune. In a study published in Atmospheric Science Letters, 2013, he found with other scientists how the warmer upper ocean helps tropical cyclones to sustain or increase their intensity by an uninterrupted supply of heat fluxes from the ocean surface to the atmosphere.



DRY spell

A World Bank report warns us to start taking global warming seriously to avoid more extreme droughts in future.

The region received 60 to 70 per cent rains against the state average of 90 to 92 per cent. It was the worst drought in 40 years, and meant a battle for water amongst cattle, humans and the fields. Result: dying livestock, parched crops, and farmers driven to suicide.

Researchers say these semi-arid regions of Maharashtra have witnessed an average rise of 0.02oC every year in annual temperature in the last 40 years. This has served to make droughts more long-lasting and severe, and escalate their impacts. The region’s agricultural practices are equally to blame.

Sugarcane, the main crop, swallows up four times more water in comparison to crops like millets. In a region which is already starved of water and prone to droughts, this comes as that proverbial final nail on the coffin. What’s a heat wave? It’s a long period of hot weather, with temperatures higher than expected in that area at that time of the year. A heat wave is declared if temperature is over 45°C irrespective of the normal local temperature.

What’s a heat wave?

It’s a long period of hot weather, with temperatures higher than expected in that area at that time of the year. A heat wave is declared if temperature is over 45°C irrespective of the normal local temperature.


Where: Maharashtra, Marathwada, Khandesh

When: January 2013 onwards

Freaky factor: More than 11,000
villages have been cast under a dry spell which is still continuing!

Don your investigative hats and become the weather police to know more about your city’s weather vagaries. Start with Grandparents.

Tap grandparents wisdom

Q. When was the hottest summer?

Q. When was the coldest winter?

Q. Have you observed any weather changes from when you were my age to the current times?


The spooky weather rise

Feeling the heat
14 of the 15 hottest years have occurred during the 21st century.

Disaster fact file
Globally, 85 per cent natural disasters in 2014 were hydrological (floods and landslides due to heavy rains) and meteorological (storms and extreme temperature) hazards.

Money drain
In 2014, India incurred US$27 billion worth economic losses because of floods, storms and drought.



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