Unyielding heatwaves: Temperatures may soar to 50°C as conditions worsen over northwest India, Pakistan

Worst-hit areas to record temperatures 5-7°C above normal, says UK meteorological office

By Preetha Banerjee
Published: Friday 13 May 2022

Heatwave conditions in northwest India and Pakistan are set to worsen over the next two-three days, peaking on May 14, 2022 (Saturday), according to the meteorological office of the United Kingdom. The sun directly overhead central India and heat getting trapped by air compression may be behind the gruellling weather, the weather agency observed.

In Pakistan’s Jacobabad and Sibi area, located around 500 kilometres west of Rajasthan, temperatures are expected to be around 49-50 degrees Celsius on Saturday, it noted May 12. Temperatures in Jacocabad crossed 50°C in recent years, according to news report. 

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) announced a ‘severe heatwave’ warning in west Rajasthan and parts of east Rajasthan for May 13-14.

“Isolated pockets over Jammu Division, south Punjab, south Haryana-Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat state” will experience heatwave conditions on these two days, IMD added. Places in higher altitudes such as Kullu, Jammu and Banihal are also under heatwave and severe heatwaves, the national weather agency said.

The unbearable weather may have been caused by a combination of meteorological factors, the UK office explained.

The entire central India is currently the sub-solar point of Earth (region directly under the sun during at mid-day), according to the agency. This means, “the largely dry landmass (as the dry northeast monsoon continues) is baked by the directly overhead sun”, it added.

This condition is aggravated by the air forming a lid over the region due to a process called adiabatic compression, which doesn’t allow heat to transfer to layers beyond the ground level.

The temperatures predicted by the UK met office are 5-7 degrees above normal for this time of the year. The abnormal conditions are likely linked to climate change, it added.

Maximum temperatures predicted for May 14, 2022

 Source: UK Meteorological Office

Maximum temperatures in Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh and Delhi, Rajasthan and Central India may rise 2-3 degrees till May 16, 2022, IMD had warned May 11, 2022. 

There will be temporary relief Sunday onwards, the agency said in a press release. “The heatwave will ease into Sunday and the early part of next week, when temperatures return nearer to average with maxima in the low 40s°C.”

But by next weekend, the mercury may climb higher than levels predicted for the current heatwave conditions, the UK met office forecast.

The agency warned of a domino effect on the wider environment: The heatwaves may set off wildfires and glacial lake outburst flooding (GLOF). 

Satelite images showed there have been a spike in fire activities, including wildfires, across India and Pakistan since March. India sees a significant rise in instances of fire in March compared to February and January. The spikes are more pronounced during heatwave years.

GLOF occurs when ice holding glacial lakes in one place melts due to extreme heat, sending out a massive volume of water in a violent and sudden gush downstream. The phenomenon was thought to be responsible for the flood in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district last month but that theory was later dismissed. 

Ganganagar, Bikaner and Barmer in West Rajasthan recorded the highest temperature of 47°C on May 12, according to IMD. The ‘severe heatwave’ is likely to reduce to a ‘heatwave’ in West Rajasthan from May 14.

But the region, along with Jammu Division, Madhya Pradesh, Vidarbha, south Punjab and south Haryana-Delhi, will continue to be under heat spell till May 16. 

These episodes are usually eased by the onset of wet monsoon due to reversal of large-scale wind patterns, Nick Silkstone, a meteorologist with the Met Office’s Global Guidance Unit. 

For northwest India and Pakistan, however, the wet phase of the monsoon doesn’t usually arrive until late June to mid-July, he added, indicating that relief from the oppressive weather may be delayed. 

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