Natural Disasters

3,026 people, 2 million ha crops: How 314 days of extreme weather events affected India in 2022

Highest number of people were killed in central India, largest crop area damaged in South Peninsula

By Rajit Sengupta
Published: Tuesday 17 January 2023
Photo: iStock

We normally associate extreme weather events with large-scale destruction and losses. We also assume that all extreme weather events are covered by the mainstream media and make headlines. 

The reality is that extreme weather events — events that are abnormal in terms of location or intensity — are, in most cases, local occurrences that frequently go unreported. The cumulative impact of these events, though, is alarming and widespread.

In 2022, the Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) and Down to Earth (DTE) Data Centre tracked the extreme weather events that took place throughout the year in India. It found that the country, on the whole, experienced extreme weather events on 314 out of the 365 days. This means that at least one extreme weather event was reported in some part of the country on each of these days. 

On several days, multiple states recorded extreme weather events, the India’s Atlas on Weather Disasters, a CSE-DTE database that is refreshed monthly, found. 

On July 8, 2022, for instance, 19 states and Union territories experienced one of the three types of extreme weather events: Heavy rains, floods and landslides; lightning and storms; and cloudbursts. Click here for definitions

In 2022, extreme weather events cumulatively claimed 3,026 human lives, affected at least 1.96 million hectares (ha) crop area, destroyed 423,249 houses and killed over 69,899 animals. The year was also the fifth warmest for the country, according to the India Meteorological Department (IMD).

Heavy rains, floods and landslides was the most recurring extreme weather event type (reported on 214 days in the year), followed by lightning and storms (185 days), heatwaves (66 days), coldwave / cold days (46 days), cloudbursts (11 days), snowfall (4 days) and cyclones (3 days). The analysis relies on the number of days per extreme weather event as it shows the spread of such events across the year. 

Most people killed in central India

IMD divides the country into four regions — North West, South Peninsula, East and North East and Central India. All the regions were battered by extreme weather events last year, the CSE-DTE Data Centre analysis showed.

The Northwest region, which has 10 of the 36 states / UTs, experienced extreme weather events on 237 days in 2022. This was followed by the Central region, which saw 218 extreme weather event days. East and Northeast region reported extreme weather events on 196 days. The South Peninsula reported the lowest 170 days with extreme weather events.

To understand the damage the events caused, the analysts looked at four parameters: Human deaths, crop area affected, houses damages and animals killed. 

Of the 3,026 human deaths due to extreme weather events, the Central region recorded the most deaths (939), followed by the Northwest region (878 deaths), the East and Northeast region (810 deaths) and the South Peninsula (400 deaths).

Of the almost 2 million ha affected crop area, the South Peninsula accounted for the lion’s share (1.2 million ha), followed by the Northwest region (0.3 million ha), East and Northeast region (0.3 million ha) and the Central region (0.2 million ha). 

As many as 423,249 houses were damaged. The bulk of them were in the East and Northeast region (320,262 houses), followed by the South Peninsula (66,916 houses), Central region (28,226 houses) and the Northwest region (7,846 houses). 

The East and Northeast region also accounted for 55,611 of the 69,899 animals killed due to extreme weather events in 2022. 

The India’s Atlas on Weather Disasters sources its loss and damage data from the National Disaster Management Division of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, India Meteorological Department and media reports. The Disaster Management Division releases cumulative figures on human lives lost, cropped areas affected, houses damaged and animals killed.

DTE had earlier reported inconsistencies in the figures presented in these databases. Sikkim, for instance, had 3,965 houses damaged by extreme weather events till October 2022. A month later, the cumulative number of damaged houses reduced to 3,935,” the December 2022 DTE story noted. 

Extreme weather event definitions

Lightning and storm: Lightning is an electrical discharge caused by imbalances between storm clouds and the ground, or within the clouds themselves. Storms include duststorms (caused by thunderstorms or strong pressure gradients associated with cyclones that increase wind speed over a wide area), hailstorms (an outgrowth of a severe thunderstorm in which balls or irregularly shaped lumps of ice fall with the rain), thunderstorms and gales (a very strong wind).

Heavy rains, floods and landslides: Heavy rainfall happens when a region receives 64.5-115.5 mm rain in 24 hours. In the case of very heavy rainfall, the threshold increases to 115.6-204.4 mm and in extremely heavy rainfall it is 204.5 mm or more. The report has considered all very heavy and extremely heavy rainfall events as well as heavy rainfall events only when they have caused damages.

Heatwave: These conditions signify a certain rise in temperature at a given place with respect to normal climatological value. The report has considered heatwaves (4.5-6.4°C departure of the maximum temperature from normal) and severe heatwaves (departure of more than 6.4°C).

Cold day / coldwave: Cold day conditions occur when the maximum temperature drops by 4.5-6.4°C than average. If the deviation is more than 6.4°C, then it is considered a severe cold day. Cold wave conditions occur when the minimum temperature drops by 4.5-6.4°C than normal. Similarly, severe coldwaves occur when the minimum temperature drops by more than 6.4°C than normal. The report has considered all the four categories.

Snowfall: This is a hydrological hazard where a large amount of snow can affect transport, crops and people. The Annual Disaster Weather Report by IMD records the snowfall cases over India that caused human deaths. The report has also considered only those snowfall events that caused deaths.

Cloudburst: It occurs when there is very heavy rainfall (100 mm per hour) over a localised area. It is accompanied with strong winds and lightning.

Cyclone: This phenomenon is defined as intense vortexes or whirls in the atmosphere with very strong winds circulating around them in anti-clockwise direction in the Northern Hemisphere and in clockwise direction in the Southern Hemisphere.

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