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India is a place that knows heat. During May— the last month before the monsoon rains arrive to cool things down—temperatures can soar to 104°F (40°C) on average. Yes, this means that a day when high temperatures in say, the northern city of New Delhi, rise to only 102°F (39°C) would mean that temperatures were below average. It takes a truly abominable amount of heat for meteorologists there to call a period of hot temperatures an actual heat wave. But what has happened during the last several weeks has been beyond expectations, even for India.
Hit even harder, the Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana states of southeast India have observed temperatures soaring past 113°F (45°C). In the city of Titlagarh in the state of Odisha, temperatures reached 117.7°F (47.6°C)! Near the coast, the city of Ongole, in the state of Andhra Pradesh, high temperatures averaged 110°F (43.47°C) from May 24-30. Farther inland, in the state of Jharkhand, the city of Daltonganj averaged 115.6°F for the entire week of May 24-30, peaking at 117° (47.2°C) on May 27. For coastal cities, this was not a “dry heat:” humid air made the high temperatures even more unbearable and life-threatening. Even for India, this is extreme heat.
In the future, though, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), more frequent and intense heat waves in Asia (including India) will negatively impact vulnerable communities and increase mortality. In fact, it is likely that heat waves already occur more often now in Asia than they did in 1950. In a future with high carbon emissions, it is likely that a maximum temperature that occurs once every 20 years will at least double in frequency (to a 1-in-10-year event) by the end of the 21st century. Research focusing solely on India also concludes that heat waves will last longer, be more intense and occur more often in the future