Climate Change

Blame climate change for a sweltering Kerala

Increased sea surface temperature leads to rise in humidity

By Rejimon Kuttappan
Published: Wednesday 19 February 2020

Kerala has been sweltering since the second week of February 2020, with temperatures 2-3 degrees Celsius (°C) above normal. Scientists blame climate change for this.

Rise in sea surface temperature, due to global warming, drove up humidity. This, in turn, pushed temperatures higher, according to Rajeevan Erikkulam, a meteorologist with a central government science institute in the state.

Rising sea surface temperature was pushing up temperatures on India’s coast,” he told this reporter.

“On February 17, 2020, Santa Cruz in Mumbai recorded 38.01 degrees Celsius, which was the highest in India. Kottayam and Kannur placed second and third,” Rajeevan said. Kannur is on the coast. But Kottayam is not, though it is not far from the sea and has a high humidity level.

Temperature was also high at Punalur and Palakkad — away from the coast, on the Western Ghats. Heat from Tamil Nadu crossed over to these areas through gaps in the Western Ghats, Rajeevan said.

“Eventually, these places will face severe heat,” Rajeevan said. He though predicted light rain for Southern Kerala on February 21, before the  temperatures rise again.

Global land and ocean surface temperature for January 2020 was the highest in 141 years, according to a report released on February 13 by the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s National Centers for Environmental Information.

January’s global average temperature rose 1.14°C above the 20th century average of 12°C, according to the NOAA.

The report read:

The four warmest Januaries on record have occurred since 2016, while the 10 warmest Januaries have occurred since 2002. The only Januaries with global land and ocean surface temperature departure from average above 1.0°C occurred in 2016 and 2019.

Not El Niño

The report also added that only March 2016, February 2016, and December 2015 had a greater temperature departure. All these months had a strong warm phase El Niño / Southern Oscillation (ENSO) present in tropical Pacific Ocean.

ENSO, which is a periodic fluctuation in sea surface temperature and air pressure of the overlying atmosphere across tropical Pacific Ocean, can influence global temperatures.

Source: India Meteorological Department

*TVM - Thirvananthapuram; AP - Airport and CIAL - Cochin International Airport Ltd

A warm phase ENSO, also known as El Niño, tends to have a warming influence on global temperatures, while the cold phase (La Niña) tends to have a cooling influence.

However, the report revealed that the January 2020 global land and ocean surface temperature departure from average was the highest for any month during ENSO neutral conditions, meaning El Niño or La Niña was not present in the tropical Pacific Ocean.

Meanwhile, an official from Kerala Fire and Rescue said that an increase in temperature will heighten the risk of wildfires in the state. “Increase in temperature is one of the main reasons behind wildfires in Kerala,” he said.

Between February 11 and February 18, 140 fire alerts were recorded in Kerala, according to the Forest Survey of India (FSI)’s SNPP-VIIRS satellite. A major wildfire in the Vadakkanchery forest range in Thrissur district of Kerala had killed three forest watchers on February 15. The victims have been identified as KU Divakaran (43), AK Velayudhan (54) and VA Shankaran (46).

There are about 277,758 forest fire points — places prone to such fires — across India detected by FSI based on fire data over 13 years, from 2004/5 to 2017. Of these Mizoram has the most forest fire points, with over 32,600 fire points between 2005 and 2017. Kerala has 1,700 forest fire points.

States with the most fire alerts (February 11-18, 2020)

Source: Forest Survey of India

Kerala temperatures

The maximum temperature is most likely to be above normal by 2-3°C in Thiruvananthapuram, Alappuzha, Kottayam, Thrissur, Kozhikode, and Kannur, a notice published by the India Meteorological Department (IMD) on February 18, 2020, said.

The maximum temperature in Thiruvananthapuram will hover around 35°C till February 24 whereas the minimum temperature will range between 23°C and 24°C, the IMD forecast said.

For Alappuzha,the maximum temperature will range between 36°C and 37°C,  and for Kottayam, it will range between 38°C and 36°C. For Kannur, it will be between 37°C and 36 °C. For Punalur, it will be between 37°C and 36°C.

“Thiruvananthapuram, Alappuzha, Kannur, Kasaragod, and Kottayam will face severe heat. The temperatures will be higher in these districts. Pregnant women, the elderly and children should avoid direct sunlight between 11 am and 3 pm. It is advisable to drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration,” Sekhar Lukose Kuriakose, a senior official at Kerala State Disaster Management Authority, told this reporter.

Last week, the state labour department had rescheduled working hours for labourers, banning outdoor work between 12 noon and 3 pm.

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