Climate Change Exacerbates Deadly Dust Storm in India
Record-breaking temperatures may have exacerbated a dust storm that ravaged Northern India last Wednesday, killing about 125 people and injuring hundreds more.
The storm came at night, with wind speeds reaching 100 mph, toppling rooftops and caving in walls while people slept in their homes. High death tolls were reported in the Northern states of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. Many were buried beneath the rubble in the aftermath of the storm.
"I've been in office for 20 years and this is the worst I've seen," Hemant Gera, Rajasthan’s secretary for disaster management and relief, told BBC. "We had a high intensity dust storm on 11 April - 19 people died then - but this time it struck during the night,” which left slumbering residents vulnerable when the “mud walls collapsed.”
“It can be called a freak incident,” Mahesh Palawat, chief meteorologist at Skymet Weather, told the Hindustan Times. “Dust storms are usually not this intense nor do these systems cover such a large area.”
Storms of this caliber thrive off of high temperatures, moisture, and agitated atmospheres, according to reports by the BBC and the Hindustan Times. The recent record-breaking temperatures preceded the fatal storms, where temperatures reached a searing 122.3 degrees Fahrenheit in neighboring Pakistan last month.
The Western heat aroused strong winds, which, when impacted with the moist winds coming from the East, manifested into the extreme weather that occurred on Wednesday.
BBC also reported that increasing desertification in the region may indirectly lead to similar dust storms in the future.
“All over India, temperatures are abnormally high,” Roxy Mathew Koll, a climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, also told the Hindustan Times. “Even if they are not the drivers, they will aggravate the situation by causing the atmosphere to become more unstable.”
For now, affected communities must deal with the damaged infrastructure, which has stripped many cities and villages of power, and cope with the sudden losses of lives. In the state of Uttar Pradesh, the government announced that families of the dead will receive 400,000 rupees (about $6,000) in compensation.
“Condolences to the bereaved families,” said Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a statement on Twitter. “May the injured recover soon.”