Climate Change

Mocha brings high humidity, heat-related illnesses for coastal Odisha residents

Low-level winds bringing in moisture from Bay of Bengal to blame

By Hrusikesh Mohanty
Published: Thursday 11 May 2023
The streets of Berhampur in southern Odisha wear a deserted look due to high heat. Photo: Hrusikesh Mohanty
The streets of Berhampur in southern Odisha wear a deserted look due to high heat. Photo: Hrusikesh Mohanty The streets of Berhampur in southern Odisha wear a deserted look due to high heat. Photo: Hrusikesh Mohanty

Cyclone Mocha formed on May 11, 2023 in the Bay of Bengal and is likely to move towards Bangladesh and Myanmar. Even though India may not be directly affected by the cyclonic storm, parts of Odisha and other coastal states are feeling the heightened effect of heat because of high humidity levels. 

Coastal area residents reported hot and uncomfortable weather for the last four to five days and many have been struck by heat-related illnesses as well. 

This is likely due to the heat index — which is what the temperature feels like to the human body when humidity is factored in along with the air temperature. This has important considerations for the human body’s comfort. 

Read more: Heat-stressed: Europe warming twice as fast as global average, shows new report

Chatrapur, the headquarter town of the coastal Ganjam district, is recording a maximum day temperature of around 38 degrees Celsius. This is 3-4°C less than the temperatures of the state’s western towns like Jharsuguda, Boudha, Sambalpur and Bolangir, that are facing temperatures of 40°C. 

However, Chatrapur’s relative humidity is pegged at 70 to 80 per cent due to Mocha, which is centred in the Bay of Bengal, about 1,500 kilometres from the Odisha town. The town residents reported hot and uncomfortable weather for the last four to five days. 

On May 10, at least 15 areas — mostly the towns in the western part of Odisha — recorded temperatures above 40°C. Jharsuguda recorded the highest 42.9°C.

While scorching summers are not uncommon in Ganjam and some other parts of Odisha’s coastal districts in May, what is different this time is the lack of thunder and rain. 

Usually, sultry mornings give way to an evening of thunderstorms, which gives respite from the heat, said environmentalist Sudhir Rout, who is also the director of Aryabhatta Foundation.

“This year, people of the coastal districts are reeling under discomfort with hot temperatures, showing us the real climate impact,” said Rout.

Uma Shankar Das, a senior scientist of India Meteorological Department’s Bhubaneswar centre, attributed the phenomenon to the increase in the heat index. 

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The heat index, also known as the apparent temperature, has important considerations for the human body’s comfort, said Sarat Sahu, a senior weather scientist.

Along with Odisha, parts of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and West Bengal are also facing sultry weather, as a lot of moisture is arriving with low-level winds from the Bay of Bengal.

Doctors said heat-related illnesses like heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heat rashes or prickly heat skin disease would spurt if the situation prevails. 

“Though the chances of heat stroke are very low due to the presence of moisture, heat cramps and heat exhaustion occur when the body gets depleted of sodium, potassium and water,” said Uma Shankar Mishra, a medicine specialist. 

A number of prickly heat cases were reported from the coastal belt of Odisha during summer, said dermatologist Mana Govind Srichandan. Heat rash is an itchy skin irritation caused by a blockage and inflammation of sweat caused due to heat and high humidity. 

“Several such cases were reported from Bhubaneswar, Puri and other coastal belts this year,” Srichandan said. 

Many cases of heat-related illness are being reported, but none of heat stroke, said Suchitra Das, superintendent for government-run MKCG Medical College and Hospital, Berhampur. “We have set up a separate ward for heat stroke patients, but not a single patient has been admitted,” she said. 

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People are careful not to catch a heat stroke as governments frequently issue warnings for it, said Mishra. But the residents are not forwarned of heat-related illnesses.

“If the IMD issues a heat index along with its daily bulletin, the people will be more cautious and take preventive measures,” he said.

Das said the IMD is working on issuing a heat index for the entire country from next summer. The IMD uses a formula from the United States federal agency National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to calculate the heat index in some cities experimentally at present. 

However, the heat index is yet to be validated for Indian conditions and uses the comfort levels of weather experienced by Americans in their regions.

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