Climate Change

Extreme weather 2023: India saw a disaster nearly every day from January-September

Extreme weather events are no longer once-in-alifetime for India; they are now occurring with increased frequency

By Rajit Sengupta, Kiran Pandey
Published: Tuesday 28 November 2023
Cyclone Biporjoy caused some extreme rainfall in western states. Photo: Himanshu Bhayani

For a free download of the report, click here

India has seen a disaster nearly every day in the first nine months of this year — from heat and cold waves, cyclones and lightning to heavy rain, floods and landslides.

These disasters have claimed 2,923 human lives, affected 1.84 million hectares (ha) of crop area, destroyed over 80,563 houses and killed close to 92,519 livestock, as per India 2023: An assessment of extreme weather events brought out by Down To Earth (DTE) magazine and the Centre for Science and Environment.

This calculation of loss and damage is probably an underestimate as data for each event is not collated, nor are the losses of public property or crop calculated, according to the DTE-CSE report, which is now in its second year.

With an event every second day, Madhya Pradesh saw the highest number of days with extreme weather events; but Bihar saw the highest number of human deaths at 642, followed by Himachal Pradesh (365 deaths) and Uttar Pradesh (341 deaths). 

Himachal Pradesh reported the highest number of damaged houses (15,407) and Punjab reported the highest number of animal deaths (63,649).

Winter (January-February 2023)

While January experienced mildly warmer temperatures than average (1981-2010), February remained extremely hot with daytime and mean temperatures 1.86ºC and 1.36ºC warmer than average, respectively. The two months also remained drier than usual, with an average rainfall deficit of 13 per cent in January and 68 per cent in February. 

The country experienced an extreme weather event on 28 of 59 days in the winter months of 2023. The events were spread across 21 states / Union Territories (UTs). 

Punjab and Haryana were the worst-hit as they experienced extreme weather events on 15 days. They were followed by Uttar Pradesh and Bihar which experienced extreme weather events on 14 days.

Pre-monsoon (March-May 2023)

While the season recorded near-normal temperatures, there were substantial regional aberrations. At the same time, rainfall remained on the higher side along with unusually high incidence of lightning and storms, particularly hailstorms, spread across almost the entire country. 

India experienced extreme weather events on 85 out of 92 days. The events were spread across 33 states/UTs. Lightning and storms were reported on 79 days, heatwaves on 28 days, followed by heavy rains, floods and landslides on 16 days.

Maharashtra was the worst-hit with extreme weather events on 41 days. It was followed by Rajasthan (33 days).

Monsoon (June-September 2023)

Arriving seven days late on June 8, the 2023 South West Monsoon season initially progressed slowly. However, it gained momentum and covered the entire country by June 30, some 15 days earlier than normal.

Cyclone Biparjoy caused extreme rainfall in some western states, while a rare interaction with a western disturbance led to flash floods in Himachal Pradesh in July. August saw heavy rainfall in the mountainous regions and northeast India, while the rest of the country remained dry. Despite some monsoon rainfall in September, the overall deficit was six per cent, making it a near-normal monsoon year for India. 

Extreme weather events were reported on all 122 days during the season, and claimed over 2,594 human lives and damaged 0.81 million hectares of crop area and 80,563 houses. 

Changing face of extreme weather events 

Traditionally, extreme weather events were believed to be one-in-a-lifetime events. But this has clearly changed. It is not about the single event but about the increased frequency of the events — an extreme event we saw once every 100 years has now begun to occur every five years or less.

Worse, it is now all coming together — each month is breaking a new record. This, in turn, is breaking the backs of the poorest, who are worst impacted and are fast losing their capacities to cope with these recurring and frequent events.

In terms of the “nature” of the event, all types of extreme weather have been seen in the past nine months — lightning and storms were reported in all 36 states and UTs and claimed 711 lives.

Then, every day of the three months of monsoon — from June to August — shows heavy to very heavy and extremely heavy rainfall in some parts of the country.

This is why the flood devastation has not spared any region — in Himachal Pradesh, for instance, vast parts of the state were submerged and people lost lives, homes and sources of livelihood.  

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