NEW DELHI (AP) – An unusually early heat wave brought more extreme temperatures Monday to a large area of northwestern India, raising concerns that such weather conditions could become typical.
India’s meteorological department predicted that the temperature in New Delhi would reach 41.8 degrees Celsius (107.2 degrees Fahrenheit) on Monday, almost eight degrees above normal.
The Weather Agency declares a heat wave when the temperature is at least 4.5 C (8 F) above average.
The most important summer months – April, May and June – are always eerily hot in most parts of India, before monsoon rains bring cooler temperatures. But the heat wave has come early and has become particularly intense in the last decade and has killed hundreds every year.
During heat waves, the country usually also suffers from severe water shortages, with tens of thousands of its 1.4 billion people lacking running water.
Extreme temperatures have hit large parts of northern and western India in the past week, with Rajasthan, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and New Delhi among the worst affected. Higher temperatures could also be felt in the relatively cooler Indian-controlled Kashmir in the Himalayas, where many Indians travel to escape the summer heat.
Already this year, India has registered its warmest March since 1901.
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that heat waves and moisture-related heat stress will intensify in South Asia, and researchers studying climate change say Indians can expect more of the same warm temperatures in the coming years.
Vimal Mishra, an expert at the Indian Institute of Technology’s Water and Climate Lab, said the number of Indian states hit by heat waves has grown in recent years as extreme temperatures become more frequent and more intense.
“If you are looking for the clearest signal of climate change in India, then heat waves are a classic example. They are inevitable and will occur more frequently, ”Mishra said.
Heat waves are especially dangerous for day laborers, rickshaw drivers, street vendors and the homeless, many of whom have to work outside in hot conditions and are most at risk of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
India’s worst heat wave since 1992 was in 2015, when at least 2,081 people died.