Blazing India: 22 states see 73 heatwave spells in 97 days

The blistering conditions came early and didn’t even spare non-hotspots

By Akshit Sangomla, Kundan Pandey
Published: Thursday 20 June 2019

India is gripped in one of the most intense heatwaves, which came a little too early this time. Photo: Flickr/Harsha BharadwajEven as parts of India were complaining of a prolonged winter, other regions started feeling the heat as early as March this year. By the first week of June, the country underwent 73 spells of heatwave, 11 of them severe.

in many of the 22 states and Union territories that have underwent at least one spell of heatwave since March 1, there have been casualties. In Bihar alone, more than 200 have died.

Seven of these states are not part of the core heatwave zone. In some, like Jammu & Kashmir, heatwaves were almost unheard of.

The disaster began early

In early March, when northern India was still recovering from cold wave conditions, Kerala was scalded. The IMD waited until the late March to call it a heatwave, by when the situation was already severe.

Yet it was unprecedented as temperatures did not cross the mandatory 40 degrees Celsius. The Thiruvananthapuram IMD office made an exception looking at people’s discomfort due to high temperatures combined with humidity.

Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh also suffered from early heatwaves (from March 7). The scorching sun was no kinder to Gujarat that suffered from a spell on March 21 that lasted three days.

The IMD recorded major heatwave spells in six states between March 28 and April 3.

India’s principal weather agency declares a heat wave when the mercury is above normal by 4.5°C to 6.4°C and a severe heat wave when the gap crosses 6.4°C.

Who was punished the most?

The sun was the most brutal to Maharashtra, where people reeled under heatwave conditions for 42 days between March 28 and June 5, 2019. Of these, the heatwave was severe on six days.

Next in line were Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan with 24 and 18 days of heatwave, respectively. On non-heatwave days too the mercury didn’t stay under normal.

Humidity compounded the problem in coastal states like Odisha and Andhra Pradesh and even in non-coastal Bihar. High relative humidity increases the felt temperature, causing more perspiration and increasing discomfort.

And it’s killer

After hundreds of deaths, district magistrates of five Bihar districts, including the worst-hit Gaya, invoked Section 144 of the Criminal Penal Code to ban public activities during daytime.

Generally, the section is imposed as a precautionary measure against possible violence. And, this is the first time state authorities have considered a weather-related disaster to be a law-and-order problem. The heat also led to restrictions on school timings in Andhra and Telangana.  

People suffering from heat stroke, heat anxiety and other symptoms related to the rising temperature are being admitted in large numbers in different government hospitals since the past few days, said Vijay Kumar, additional health director of Bihar’s Magadh range.

Hospitals across the country have noticed an increased inflow of patients due to the soaring mercury. Madhya Pradesh’s Khargone district hospital treated around 200 patients of severe dysentery and diarrhoea between March 1 and June 5. On average, 300 people reached the hospital daily with heat-related complaints.

“This time the heat wave continued for a longer period and so we saw an increase in the number of patients. Owing to excessive heat, people are losing their control as complaints of irritation and anger are also on the rise in hospitals’ out-patient departments,” said Ramesh Neema, in-charge chief medical and health officer, Khargone district.

But all this could have been worse as heatwave had killed more than 2,000 people in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana alone in 2016.

“We only had people suffering from of gastroenteritis who experienced dehydration due to vomiting and loose motions. If proper precautions are taken heat strokes can be easily avoided,” said IV Ramachandra Rao, head, department of medicine, SVRR Government General Hospital in Tirupati.

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