India Heat Wave Kills Thousands & It's Not The Only One In Recent History To Claim Lives As Global Temperatures Increase
Indian officials on Tuesday announced that a stifling heat wave in India had killed over 1,100 citizens in the span of one week, capping a particularly brutal few days with temperatures of nearly 50 degrees Celsius (almost 120 degrees Fahrenheit). According to regional numbers, the hardest hit regions have been Andhra Pradesh in the southeast and nearby Telangana. Now, officials have reported growing concerns over the country's poorest residents, many of whom cannot afford electricity to run air conditioning systems and are forced to suffer under scorching and humid conditions.
"This extreme, dry heat is being blown into India by westerly winds," India Meteorological director B.P. Yadav told CNN on Tuesday, pointing to the arid conditions tracking in from neighboring Pakistan. "As of now, we don't predict any respite from the extreme heatwave for the next few days."
The AFP reported that hospitals were being put on high alert for incoming heatstroke victims. Conditions were so bad that roadways were melting in some places.
"For the past three days hot wind has been coming in," said Hyderabad street vendor P. Gangamma, who sells cigarettes, to the AFP. "I am a diabetes patient, but I have no husband and no sons, so I have to stay here and keep shop." Hyderabad, located in southern India, has maintained a consistent average temperature of around 41 degrees Celsius (106 degrees Fahrenheit) since the beginning of May. Officials have estimated that the treacherous heat could last for the next week, with no let-up.
As overall world temperatures continue to tick upwards due to global warming trends, citizens everywhere are beginning to feel the strain — and the recent devastating heat wave in India isn't the only one that has claimed several lives in the process.
In one of the region's hottest summers on record since the 1500s, European countries were slammed with sweltering conditions that left as many as 35,000 people dead in its wake. France was hit the hardest, with over 14,000 deaths alone, as many residents did not have air conditioning to keep them cool.
"[The number of deaths in France] is more than 19 times the death toll from the SARS epidemic worldwide," reported the Washington-based Earth Policy Institute in a statement that year. "Though heat waves rarely are given adequate attention, they claim more lives each year than floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes combined," they added.
Evening hours gave no respite from the scorching heat either: according to reports from that year, even nighttime temperatures topped 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
United States (Various Regions), 2006
In 2006, a swath of killer temperatures swept across various regions of the United States, with southwestern states like California and Nevada suffering through some of the worst conditions. The two-month heat wave killed as many as 600 people in California, with farmers and ranchers losing almost 25,000 cattle and 70,000 poultry, according to numbers out of the University of California, San Diego. Even northern states couldn't escape Mother Nature's wrath, with some estimates claiming that local temperatures in South Dakota had hit as high as 130 degrees Fahrenheit.
"The weather pattern that traditionally causes heat waves ... is tending to bring with it more humidity," explained climate scientist Alexander Gershunov in the UC San Diego study, "changing the character of heat waves from the dry daytime heat and cool nights ... to the muggy heat around the clock that locals are simply not accustomed to."
In the end, the heat wave was responsible for several flight cancellations, widespread agricultural and water delivery infrastructure devastation, and subway shutdowns, as the high temperatures buckled railways, forcing officials to shut down public transit.
A 2010 heat wave in Russia was likely one of the worst in global history — though on the surface, it may not have looked like it. When compared with the 2003 calamity that slammed Europe, temperatures in Russia were actually lower, but relative to its average, the difference was substantial.
"2010 was more extreme just in terms of terms of temperature anomaly alone," explained ETH Zurich climate scientist Erich Fischer, in a study published in the journal Science in March 2011. "During that time, extensive fires across western Russia killed 53 people and made 3500 people homeless, and Moscow suffered a devastating rise in mortality, smoke fire, and air pollution ... across a record-scale area of more than 2 million kilometers."
According to public records, daytime temperatures in Moscow hovered around 101 degrees Fahrenheit, while nighttime numbers in Kiev remained at around 80 degrees Fahrenheit — effectively killing off thousands of miles' worth of crops and bringing the death toll to over 55,000.
With increasing numbers of extreme natural disasters being called up across the world, scientists have indicated that things will only get worse as years pass.
"Whatever [global climate] the scenario you look at," said climate researcher David Barriopedro of the University of Lisbon in a 2011 interview with LiveScience, "you will have more frequent, more intense and longer-lasting heat waves in the upcoming decades in many places in the world."
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