India's Weather Woes: Navigating Through Climate Change And El Niño
In India, El Niño is known to impact the southwest monsoon, responsible for around 75% of the country's annual rainfall.
The severe impact of climate change on India is reflected with extreme weather events becoming more frequent and intense. Despite the Indian Meteorological Department predicting normal rainfall for the southwest monsoon season in 2023, climate scientists warn of the unpredictability of weather patterns due to climate change and the potentially devastating effects on farmers. India urgently needs to take proactive measures to mitigate climate change and adapt to changing weather patterns.
The Indian Meteorological Department has predicted normal rainfall for the southwest monsoon season in India for 2023, which takes place between June and September. The rainfall is expected to be 96% of the Long Average Period of the seasonal rainfall over India, which is 87 centimetres for the 50 years from 1971 to 2020. However, in some research papers, climate scientists have warned that climate change is making weather patterns unpredictable, and there will be much variability in rainfall during the season, which may be devastating for farmers. Even though the average rainfall remains the same, variability within the season may sometimes be harmful to farmers as it creates situations where they either do not receive enough water when needed or get too much water when it's not required.
Spur Of Climate-Led Events In India
India, as a country that is vulnerable to the impact of climate change, has been working towards reducing its greenhouse gas emissions and implementing climate adaptation measures to mitigate the effects of extreme weather events. However, in recent years, India has been facing the brunt of climate-led events.
In 2021, several regions in India experienced extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall, floods, and landslides. Maharashtra was particularly affected, with several districts experiencing severe flooding in July 2021. The floods resulted in the loss of many lives and caused extensive damage to infrastructure and property. In addition to the floods, several regions in India also experienced heatwaves in 2021, with temperatures reaching over 45 degrees Celsius in some areas.
In 2022, India experienced an intense cold wave in January, with temperatures dropping to as low as -5 degrees Celsius in some parts of northern India. The cold wave caused several deaths and hardship for people living in poverty and those who are homeless. It is important to note that extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and severe due to climate change.
The first few weeks of February 2023 saw unexpected high temperatures ranging from 35 to 39 degrees Celsius in several parts of India, including Gujarat, Rajasthan, Konkan, Goa, and coastal Karnataka. The Indian Meteorological Department attributes the sudden increase in temperature and early withdrawal of winter to the absence of active western disturbances in February 2023, a dry spell over the plains, and subdued rainfall and snowfall over the hills.
The IMD issued a heatwave alert for parts of Konkan and Maharashtra, which has since been withdrawn as temperatures have come down slightly. The maximum temperature remains 4-9 degrees Celsius above normal. The IMD indicates that an anti-cyclone triggered the high temperature in February. While temperatures have been high, there is a decreasing tendency, and there is no sign of rain in the plains of India for the next 10 days. The Western Disturbance, which brings sudden winter rain to the northwestern parts of the Indian subcontinent, has been absent, leading to a non-monsoonal precipitation pattern driven by the westerlies.
March 2023 had contrasting weather conditions, with the first half being warmer than usual and the second half seeing intense weather activity across India. The first half of the week was very dry, with a deficiency of 75% for 15 days. However, the second half of the month saw an unusually long spell of rain, thunderstorms, strong winds, and hail, devastatingly impacting crops in northwest and central India.
The country ended the month with a surplus of 26%, with 22 divisions in the large excess category. The frequent active Western disturbances induced cyclonic circulations and anti-cyclones over the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea were the reasons behind the unseasonal rain.
El Niño Effect On Indian Monsoon
El Niño is a climatic phenomenon that occurs when there is an abnormal warming of the surface waters in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, which can impact weather patterns globally. It can disrupt the normal ocean and atmospheric circulation, resulting in unusual weather patterns in many parts of the world.
El Niño is when trade winds weaken, causing warm water to push back east, impacting global weather patterns. The IMD explained that only 40% of El Niño years have resulted in normal or above-normal monsoons. The question is whether 60% of El Niño years have resulted in below-normal monsoons and should also be considered.
In India, El Niño is known to impact the southwest monsoon, responsible for around 75% of the country's annual rainfall. During El Niño years, the monsoon rainfall in India tends to be below normal. This is because the warming of the Pacific Ocean leads to changes in the atmospheric circulation patterns that can result in drier weather conditions in India. This can significantly impact agriculture as farmers rely heavily on monsoon rainfall to water their crops. It is necessary to acknowledge the impact of El Niño on the monsoon and work towards adaptation and mitigation measures to deal with its effects.
It's worth noting that El Niño typically lasts for nine to 12 months and can occur every two to seven years on average. La Niña is another climatic phenomenon that occurs when there is an abnormal cooling of the same tropical Pacific waters, which can also impact global weather patterns differently. During La Niña years, the monsoon rainfall in India tends to be above normal.
El Niño And Global Warming: What Are The Interrelations?
The relationship between El Niño and global warming is complex. Scientists believe global warming may make El Niño events more frequent and intense. Warmer ocean temperatures caused by global warming can create conditions that favour the development of El Niño events.
In addition, the impacts of El Niño events may be exacerbated by global warming. For example, warmer ocean temperatures can lead to more severe coral bleaching during El Niño events, and higher temperatures and drier conditions can increase the risk of wildfires.
While El Niño and global warming are not the same, they are connected in various ways, and both significantly impact global climate and weather patterns.
Urgent Measures Needed To Mitigate Impacts Of Extreme Weather And El Niño
India is witnessing the severe impact of climate change, with extreme weather events becoming more frequent and intense. Despite the Indian Meteorological Department predicting normal rainfall for the southwest monsoon season in 2023, climate scientists have warned that climate change is making weather patterns unpredictable, creating much variability in rainfall during the season, which may be devastating for farmers.
Moreover, the impact of El Niño cannot be ignored as it disrupts the normal ocean and atmospheric circulation, resulting in unusual weather patterns in many parts of the world. In India, El Niño is known to impact the southwest monsoon, responsible for around 75% of the country's annual rainfall. Acknowledging its impact and working towards adaptation and mitigation measures to deal with its effects is crucial.
It is high time India takes urgent measures to mitigate climate change and adapts to the changing weather patterns. These measures could include reducing greenhouse gas emissions, promoting sustainable farming practices, improving water and disaster management, and investing in climate-resilient infrastructure.
India needs to adopt a proactive approach in dealing with climate change and El Niño, as the impacts of these phenomena have far-reaching consequences, particularly for the agriculture sector. By implementing effective mitigation and adaptation strategies, India can secure a sustainable future for its citizens and the environment.
is an Associate Professor (Research) and Research Director- at the Bharti Institute of Public Policy at ISB. He contributes to IPCC reports.
The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of BQ Prime or its editorial team.