Delhi's Scorching Heat Reflects Global Warming Trends

New Delhi has experienced unprecedented high temperatures over the past two days. This heatwave is part of a broader global trend of record-breaking temperatures seen worldwide in recent years.

New Delhi has experienced unprecedented high temperatures over the past two days. This heatwave is part of a broader global trend of record-breaking temperatures seen worldwide in recent years.

Record-Breaking Temperatures Worldwide

In July 2022, the United Kingdom recorded temperatures exceeding 40°C for the first time. A small town in northwest China experienced an all-time high of 52°C last year. Sicily, Italy, saw European record-breaking heat of 48.8°C in 2021. These examples highlight a troubling global pattern.

According to an analysis by Carbon Brief, a UK-based climate change publication, nearly 40% of the Earth’s surface recorded its highest-ever daily temperatures between 2013 and 2023. Even Antarctica was not spared. During this period, Phalodi in Rajasthan also saw India’s highest temperature ever recorded.

Despite these modern records, the highest temperature ever documented on Earth remains the 56.7°C recorded in Death Valley, California, in 1913.

Delhi’s Contested Temperature Record

On Wednesday, an automatic weather station in Mungeshpur, on the northern outskirts of Delhi, reported a staggering 52.9°C. If verified, this would set a new all-time high for India. However, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) is scrutinizing this reading, as none of the other 20 stations in Delhi reported temperatures close to this figure. The Najafgarh station recorded a high of 49.1°C, while the representative Safdarjung station reported 46.8°C, an 80-year high for that location.

IMD officials have admitted that the Mungeshpur reading is suspect, and a thorough verification process is underway. Extreme weather events require careful validation, often taking days or even years. For instance, the UK Met Office took several days to confirm the UK’s record temperature, and the Sicilian record took nearly three years to be officially acknowledged.

Also read: Rising Temperatures Lead to Increased Cardiovascular Risk: Health Experts Warn

The Severity of Heatwaves in Northern India

Whether the Mungeshpur reading stands or not, there’s no denying that Delhi and much of northern India are enduring one of the worst heatwaves on record. Temperatures are 5 to 10°C above normal in many areas. Wednesday marked the fourth consecutive day of temperatures above 45°C at Safdarjung. Such extreme heat is causing widespread distress.

Aarti Khosla, director of Climate Trends, a climate organization, expressed grave concern, stating, “Heatwaves now show temperature departures of 5-9°C from normal summer weather… They are the single largest threat to India’s well-being today.” She emphasized the dire implications for survival in the region, given the current conditions.

Global Warming Intensifies

The year 2024 was forecasted to be exceptionally warm, following 2023, which was the warmest year on record globally. This trend has continued, with April 2024 marking the 11th consecutive month of record global average temperatures, according to the Copernicus Climate Change Service. The period from May 2023 to April 2024 was the warmest 12-month period recorded, with global temperatures about 1.61°C above pre-industrial averages.

In India, the warming trend is less pronounced compared to global averages, with an increase of about 0.7°C since 1900. This contrasts with the 1.59°C rise in global land temperatures and a 1.1°C overall increase when including ocean temperatures. Despite this, heatwaves in India are becoming more severe. In 2023, heatwave conditions were observed even in February, a month typically considered part of winter.

A New Normal?

The current high temperatures in Delhi and northern India appear anomalous when compared to historical averages from 1981-2010. However, as global warming continues, temperatures above 45°C are likely to become the new normal, and even readings approaching 50°C may no longer seem extraordinary.