India was the hottest place in the world this weekend. The northern state of Rajasthan was the epicentre of an extreme heat wave that very nearly broke the all-time temperature record for India.
A heat dome has been building over northern India for the past few days, turning the region into a furnace. Numerous locations saw the mercury climb above 45 degrees Celsius on Saturday and Sunday. Churu, a city of 120,000, sat the epicentre of the heat wave.
The temperature there reached 50.6 degrees Celsius on Saturday. That puts it just a shade below the all-time temperature record for the entire country that was set in 2016 when it hit 51 degrees Celsius in Phalodi, another city in Rajasthan.
With heat baking the region, the Indian Meteorological Department has issued a severe heat wave warning for Rajasthan and many neighbouring states. That includes Delhi, home the Indian capital of New Delhi, where it reached 43.5 degrees Celsius (110.3 degrees Fahrenheit) over the weekend. According to the meteorological department, a severe heat wave warning means that “extreme care [is] needed for vulnerable people.”
In a developing country like India, that includes not just the old, sick, and young but also millions of people who lack access to air conditioning, raising the risk of heat-related illness.
India is no stranger to spring heat waves. Last year’s were accompanied by deadly dust storms while other recent May and early June hot spells have melted pavement. Rising temperatures thanks to climate change have helped boost the likelihood and intensity of heat waves around the world, and the increasing scorching heat waves in India certainly fit with those patterns.
The extreme conditions are expected to ease as the week goes on and winds from the east usher in comparatively cooler air. But it’s far from the only meteorological malady affecting the country. The Indian monsoon is just around the corner, bringing quenching rains and lower temperatures. But the pre-monsoon season hasn’t exactly been kind to India.
The early season rains have by and large failed to materialise. According to the Times of India, this is the second-driest pre-monsoon in 65 years of record keeping. The AFP reports that 40 per cent of the country is currently facing drought conditions.
For a country where 60 per cent of agriculture is rainfed, the monsoon season is a make-or-break moment. The Indian Meteorological Department is forecasting a normal monsoon season, but there’s clearly some ground it’ll have to make up after an extremely hot, dry spring.