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NASA-Terra MODIS satellite/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0
Stormy season.
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Dust storms to floods, India saw extreme weather in 2018

By Maria Thomas

From freak dust storms to the once-in-a-century Kerala floods, Indian states were battered by extreme weather throughout 2018.

Weather events claimed the lives of hundreds of people, besides causing millions of dollars worth of damage to houses, roads, and other infrastructure. But what’s worse is that researchers suggest they could become the new normal, a sign of how the dark side of climate change is already here. This despite the fact India is now stepping up efforts to combat it with ambitious targets to switch to renewable energy and electric vehicles.

Here’s a list of the extreme weather events that hit various Indian states in 2018:

Heatwaves

In recent years, researchers have been warning about the growing risk of heatwaves across south Asia, and in 2018, India witnessed weeks of burning hot days. Towards the end of April and in May, temperatures in parts of northern India, besides some southern states like Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, surged above 45°C, putting thousands of people, especially those who work outdoors, at risk.

In several states, these high summer temperatures combined with atmospheric disturbances to create violent thunderstorms and deadly lightning strikes accompanied by days of heavy rainfall. In May alone, at least 200 people were killed as thunderstorms and heavy winds repeatedly lashed states such as Uttar Pradesh (UP), Bihar, and West Bengal, bringing down trees and houses, and forcing schools to close. In Rajasthan and UP, freak dust storms compounded the crisis, leaving over 100 people dead in the first week of May.

Reuters/Adnan Abidi
Electricity department workers remove damaged poles stuck under uprooted trees after a dust storm hit New Delhi on May 16, 2018.

Extreme rainfall

While the monsoon is eagerly awaited in India, where rain-dependent agriculture accounts for a significant proportion of employment and GDP, this year’s downpour wreaked havoc across several states. In September, heavy rainfall caused landslides in the northern states of Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, and Haryana, while flooding cities such as Bengaluru in the south.

But it was the northeastern states and the southern state of Kerala that really faced the worst of flooding in 2018.

Floods

In June, states in the northeast, including Assam and Manipur, were hit by heavy flooding, leaving roads and bridges badly damaged and sending thousands of people into relief camps. Deadly floods have become increasingly common in Assam in particular, where an estimated 50,000 people were affected this year.

A few months later, Kerala in the south faced its worst floods in nearly 100 years, which inundated every district and claimed the lives of over 400 people and caused damages of around $3 billion. The state received about 275% more rainfall than usual over seven days in August, forcing millions into relief camps. Many were marooned for days before being rescued from rooftops.

The floods destroyed over 100,000 buildings and around 10,000km of highways—the state is still rebuilding them.

Reuters/Sivaram V
People on rooftops awaiting aid in a flooded area in Kerala in August 2018.

India’s coastal states also faced several cyclones that left behind a trail of destruction this year.

Cyclones

This week, Cyclone Phethai made landfall in Andhra Pradesh, displacing thousands of people. It comes just about a month after Cyclone Gaja devastated neighbouring Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Puducherry. That cyclone, which caused wind speeds to surge to 120kmph, claimed the lives of at least 45 people and caused extensive damage to houses, crops, and infrastructure.

It followed Cyclone Titli, a “rarest of rare” severe storm that ravaged the state of Odisha in October, killing at least 61 people.

Feature image from NASA via Wikimedia Commons, licenced under CC BY-SA 4.0.