Climate Change

State of India’s Environment in Figures: The first 4 months of 2023 have been more devastating in India than 2022

While heatwaves were the most commonly occurring extreme weather event in the first four months of 2022, hailstorms took over as the dominating extreme weather event in 2023

By Kiran Pandey
Published: Sunday 11 June 2023
A hailstorm in Delhi in March 2023. Photo for representation from iStock__

India experienced extreme weather events on 84 of the 120 days in the first four months of 2023. These events between January and April 2023 were spread across 33 states and Union Territories (UT).

In contrast, the country experienced extreme weather events on 89 days in the same period last year spread across 27 states/UTs, according to the State of India’s Environment In Figures, 2023 released by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) and Down To Earth (DTE) on June 4, 2023.

While heatwaves were the most commonly occurring extreme weather event in the first four months of 2022, hailstorms took over as the dominating extreme weather event in 2023, 

Of the 84 days with extreme weather events in 2023, hailstorms were reported on 58 days.

Extreme weather events in India this year

Extreme weather events in India last year

Hailstorms, which affected people across 33 states/UTs, remained the most frequently occurring extreme event during the period. During the same period last year, hailstorms (classified as ‘lightning’ and ‘storms’ by the India Meteorological Department (IMD)) had affected 22 states/UTs in Inida.

Global warming, weak western disturbances and a strong subtropical jet stream are to be blamed for the unseasonal rains and hailstorms, experts told Down to Earth.

“Scary statistics foretell how our natural world is transforming because of climate change. In 2023, in the first four months, 70 per cent of the days have already seen extreme weather events,” stated Sunita Narain, Editor, DTE and Director General, CSE, in her foreword to the State of India’s Environment In Figures, 2023.

Loss and damage

Between January and April 2023, extreme weather events claimed 233 human lives, in comparison to 86 human lives during the same period in 2022. This is a 170 per cent increase in the number of human deaths due to extreme events as compared to last year.  

At least 0.95 million hectares (mha) of cropland was damaged between January and April, 2023, due to extreme weather events. This is at least 31 times the 0.03 mha of cropland affected in 2022 or over 3,000 per cent of the cropped area damaged last year.

These estimates on loss and damage are based on media reports that cited state and national-level estimates and the information made available by IMD in the public domain.

The central and state governments, including Uttar Pradesh, had acknowledged the loss to crops especially wheat and relaxed procurement norms to help farmers in April 2023.

Even as states are still counting losses due to extreme weather events during January to April, the month of May 2023 too has been unusual.

India has witnessed an unusually high number of western disturbances (WDs) in the last three months. According to IMD, there were eight WDs in May 2023, a surprisingly high number for the summer months.

These WDs were active and helped in triggering large-scale thunderstorms and rainfall activities accompanied with lightning, hailstorms and squalls in the month of May 2023 too. Heatwave conditions in the month of May 2023 were subdued over IMD according to IMD.

These changes in the month of May are indicators of changing climate and factors behind unseasonal and extreme weather events.

What this means

The counting of the losses needs to be robust and regular to adapt and plan better to the changing climate and extreme weather. This means it is now even more important to count losses and damage promptly, regularly and effectively, CSE and DTE flagged in the report Climate India 2022: An assessment of extreme weather events.

But it has been observed that IMD has not provided state-wise data on human deaths due to the significant extreme weather events in its monthly climate summary for April and May 2023, as it used to in the past. While cumulative estimates on human deaths have been provided, the state-wise figures for April and May 2023 have not been given.

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