Friday, May 20, 2016

India Clocks All-Time Heat Record - 51C

The past few years have seen something we never heard of before - temperatures breaking 50 degrees Celsius. A town in the Indian state of Rajasthan set an all time Indian record of 51C yesterday. That's about 124 Fahrenheit, sort of like sitting in a hot car on an 80F summer day with the windows up.  How bad is it?

Shiv Prakash Chanda, who works as a nursing officer in the [Phalodi] hospital, said: “It is incredibly hot. None of the air-conditioners or coolers are working. We have running water, but the water is stored in tanks on top the buildings, and when it comes out of the tap the water is so hot that you can’t even wash your hands with it. You can’t even go to the toilet.”

Ranjeet Singh, a local police constable, said: “The ground is so hot, you could cook chapatis on it.”

The heatwaves that have been rocking south Asia for weeks have been compounded by widespread, severe drought. There's no water for crops, no water for livestock. Armed guards have been posted on dams to protect what water remains for the needs of towns and villages.

It's not the heat, it's the humidity. There's some truth to that old saw. There's this thing called "wet bulb temperature" that is a formula involving air temperature, air pressure and relative humidity. It's all on a sliding scale. The oft-quoted magic number is 35C wet bulb. When the temperature hits 35 and the humidity is high enough what happens is that the body can no longer cool itself through perspiration and respiration. You literally cook and you're dead. 35C wet bulb is considered to be not survivable even by a young, healthy and fit person.  If you're older, not perfectly healthy and less than ideally fit, you'll be gone long before you reach 35C wet bulb.

For south Asia, relief is on its way - finally - in the form of the annual Monsoon rains that are already causing flooding in Sri Lanka and are expected to reach southern India early next month.

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