Heatwave: At 52.9°C Delhi smoulders, a drizzle of relief follows

Safdarjung observatory records a maximum temperature of 46.8 °C, the highest in 79 years.
A woman splashes water on her face on a hot summer day amid heatwave, in New Delhi, Wednesday, May 29, 2024.
A woman splashes water on her face on a hot summer day amid heatwave, in New Delhi, Wednesday, May 29, 2024.Photo | PTI

NEW DELHI: For several days, Delhiites felt like being in a blast furnace. On Wednesday, Mungeshpur in the northwest part of the city delivered a frightening message of a temperature being recorded at 52.9 °C at 2.30 pm—the highest-ever temperature recorded in the city.

So unnerving was the figure that it sent the weather office back to its measurement centre. The weather showed its other side in the evening: light rain, bringing much-needed relief.

“The IMD (India Meteorological Department) is examining the data and sensors,” said the department, adding that it was yet to confirm if it was actually the hottest day ever in the country.

Delhi’s primary weather station, the Safdarjung observatory recorded a maximum temperature of 46.8° Celsius, the highest in 79 years, according to official data. Delhi’s maximum was 46.7° Celsius on June 1945. The Wednesday’s count was six notches above the season’s average, IMD said.

A team of IMD scientists is examining the data and sensor as nearby other stations in Delhi NCR temperatures varied from 45.2° Celsius to 49.1° Celsius in different parts of the city.

Explaining the reason behind the rising temperature, IMD regional head Kuldeep Srivastava said the city’s outskirts are the first areas to be hit by hot winds from Rajasthan. “Parts of Delhi are particularly susceptible to the early arrival of these hot winds, worsening the already severe weather. Areas like Mungeshpur, Narela and Najafgarh are the first to experience the full force of these hot winds,” he said.

Mahesh Palawat, vice president of meteorology and climate change at Skymet Weather, said, “In open areas with vacant land, there is increased radiation. Direct sunlight and a lack of shade make these regions very hot.”

Gufran Beigh, founder and project director of SAFAR (System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research), said, “This (unprecedented high temperature) is something unusual.”

A woman splashes water on her face on a hot summer day amid heatwave, in New Delhi, Wednesday, May 29, 2024.
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A major part of North India has been reeling under prolonged extreme heatwaves. According to the IMD, 73 district meteorological stations reported temperatures over 45 °C, and the soaring temperatures departed from normal by up to 8 °C on Wednesday.

However, IMD said the prevailing severe heatwave conditions over the Northwest are likely to reduce gradually from May 30 to June 2, as another western disturbance reaching India will bring light to moderate rainfall in the Northwest. But then the heatwave days will continue in June.

“The mercury is going up because of three reasons: First, we are undergoing the transition period from El Nino to La Nina. This transition is associated with extreme drought conditions/prolonged dry periods. Second, another reason is the absence of western disturbances, due to which there is no moisture in the atmosphere.

The third reason, Gufran Beigh said, is the Heat Island effect. “In it, there is usual variability in one area to another and it all depends on the greenery and the barren land,” he added.

Reacting to the soaring temperatures, Uttarakhand-based environmentalist Anoop Nautiyal said that it is the new normal.

Arti Khosla, founder of Climate Trend, underlined the compounding effect of urbanisation and climate change, which is making Delhi and large parts of India sizzle in unlivable heat.

Mungeshpur sizzler

“It (52.9°C) looks abnormal and it is an outlier when compared with other weather stations in NCR,” IMD director general Mrutyunjay Mohapatra said. Earth Sciences Minister Kiren Rijiju directed IMD to verify the weather station.

Paid break for workers

L-G directs officials to ensure a paid break for labourers from noon to 3 pm, water and coconut water at construction sites, and water pitchers at bus stands. The labour department asked establishments to change the shift of workers.

Relief in few days

The weather office says heatwave conditions are likely to abate over the next couple of days due to a western disturbance, rainfall, thunderstorms and moist south-westerly winds blowing from the Arabian Sea to northwest India.

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The New Indian Express