India experiences first heatwave in February, what does it mean?

On 21st February, the India Meteorological Department press release stated that for the next five days maximum temperatures are likely to be above normal by 3-5°C over northwest, central and west India. Furthermore, it was also noted that for 20th February, over many parts of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Maharashtra maximum temperature was in the range of 35-39°C.

Last week for parts of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Konkan and Goa, coastal Karnataka the temperatures were above normal by 4-9°C. Over some areas of Kutch and southwest Rajasthan, they were above normal by 6-9°C. The maximum temperature at the range of 23-28°C over parts of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand during 15 to 20 Feb 2023 and above normal by 5-11°C. While, over Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh and Delhi, it has reached upto 28-33°C during 18-20th Feb, i.e. it is also above normal by 5-9°C.

The warming of the west coast can be attributed to an anti-cyclone formation over south Gujarat whose effect was transmitted to Rajasthan, Punjab, Delhi, Himachal and Uttar Pradesh, states IMD.

Read more: Assessment of Climate Change over the Indian Region

2022 heatwave

In 2022, IMD issued the first heat wave alert of the year in March signaling the impending arrival of an usually early summer and the harshest temperatures ever recorded in India. This year the warnings came even earlier. 

According to a report by the Ministry of Earth Sciences, India, the maximum warming trend is seen during the pre-monsoon season for the last 30 years. The all India average frequency of warm extremes has increased since 1951 with accelerated warming trends during 1986-2015. The pre-monsoon season heat wave frequency, duration, intensity and aerial coverage over India are projected to substantially increase during the twenty-first century (high confidence). Additionally the semi arid north-west and north India will likely warm more rapidly than the all India mean. 

Agriculture in Punjab
Agriculture in Punjab, Tractor in field, Field preparation Wheat farming in Punjab, India | Courtesy: Flickr

Effect of heatwave in agriculture 

A report by World Weather Attribution, about the 2022 heatwave stated that the extreme heat impacts productivity, cascading economic output and could exacerbate poverty. About 60% of India’s workforce are in agriculture. Furthermore, the bulk of labor is outdoors leaving millions of people with the difficult choice of working during dangerous heat.

Apart from the impacts on human health, ecosystems, water and energy supplies, last year the heat waves affected the wheat crops and yields in the wheat growing regions of northwest India. This region is known as the bread basket of India. The yield was affected to the extent that India had to ban the export of wheat to other countries.

farmer working on it’s farm
Field visit in Punjab, India | Courtesy: Flickr

What the heatwave in February could mean?

The IMD has released an advisory for farmers for the early heat wave this year. The higher daytime temperature can impact agriculture over Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan. The wheat crop is approaching reproductive growth period and is sensitive to temperature. High temperature during flowering and maturing period leads to loss in yield. 

Read more: Climate change made heatwaves in India and Pakistan “30 times more likely” | World Meteorological Organization

The Indian Government is expecting to increase the production of wheat this year. And, the production is estimated to be around 112-4 million tonnes more than last year. The increase in production is important for the country’s economy. Furthermore, to ensure the lift on the ban of wheat export. However, the early heat waves in the same regions warn about the impending danger and effects on agriculture.

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