When Heat And Flood Plays Havoc

By Ananda Banerjee August 06, 2021

The climate crisis is raising its ugly head as heatwaves, wildfires and sudden flooding wreak havoc with the loss of lives and livelihood. Climate scientists fear the worst is yet to come with far greater intensity from what has been projected till date.

When Heat And Flood Plays Havoc
When Heat And Flood Plays Havoc.

There can’t be more telling signs that something is terribly amiss with the earth’s climate. A fortnight ago, Lytton, Canada, made news headlines for breaking all previous summer temperature records. A quaint mountain village of around 250 souls, Lytton’s summer temperatures generally hover around 25C but on June 29 the village recorded an unbearable 49.6C. The heat triggered wildfires bringing death and destruction to large parts of the Lytton landscape. This was also Canada’s highest-ever recorded temperature. “This heatwave is virtually impossible without the influence of human-caused climate change,” said climate scientist Sjoukje Philip, Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute. Yet this is not the last we have seen as records keep tumbling with every passing year around the arctic circle.

A rapid change in ocean temperatures is said to have created a ‘heat dome’, which engulfed the entire Pacific Northwest America. Not just Canada, temperature records tumbled in the US too with Oregon at 46C, where firefighters are working in extreme temperatures to contain wildfires. The same can be said for the states of Washington and California. And this is just the beginning of the fire season in the US.

Closer home over seven lakh deaths occurs in the country due to abnormal temperatures as per the medical journal Lancet.  And if you think the extreme temperatures didn’t get you then floods definitely will in the near future.

This week floods, caused by unseasonal rains, wreak havoc in Germany, Belgium and parts of Western Europe killing around 50 people (and several missing when reports last came in). While the rainfall records are on a new high the scale and intensity of the deluge have startled climate scientists. According to experts, extreme weather events are becoming more regular and worse than predicted with devastating consequences. Earlier this week cloudburst triggered flash floods in Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, where several cars got washed away and buildings damaged. In other parts of the state, at least nine people were reported dead and eight others are missing due to flash floods and heavy rains in the last two days. And landslides have blocked over 140 roads and highways as per the State Disaster Management Authority.

A new study has concluded that an increase in extreme rainfall and associated flooding will continue as global temperatures rise.

University of East Anglia climate experts warn that, without urgent action, climate change will continue to cause an increase in the intensity of extreme rainfall that can lead to severe flooding.  Sharing their findings scientists from Newcastle University, UEA, the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (INPE), São Paulo, Brazil, found that in small and in urban catchments in many parts of the world extreme rainfall has increased the chance of floods occurring and their magnitude, severely impacting local populations and infrastructure. The study shows that human activity has an impact on increases in extreme daily rainfall, increasing the likelihood of some significant events. And that the risk of flash flooding on urban areas has likely increased in recent decades, due to the expanding impermeable landscape increasing surface runoff, and increased extreme rainfall, while increases are projected to continue.

Further, another recent study from NASA reveals that we have a wobbly moon that will create more coastal flooding in the coming years.

“The combination of the Moon’s gravitational pull, rising sea levels, and climate change will continue to exacerbate coastal flooding on our coastlines and across the world. NASA’s Sea Level Change Team is providing crucial information so that we can plan, protect, and prevent damage to the environment and people’s livelihoods affected by flooding. Low-lying areas near sea level are increasingly at risk and suffering due to the increased flooding, and it will only get worse,” said Bill Nelson, NASA Administrator.

In light of these recent terrifying climate events and a report that the Amazon forest now emits more carbon than it absorbs there is a call to arms for more activism. A poster on social media said it all - Why aren't we seeing any record-breaking activism for record-breaking temperatures.  "If the true urgency of climate change was not clear to Americans (or the rest of the world) before, it should be clear by now. The mind-bending heat, drought, fire and flood sweeping across the planet are both nightmares and wake-up calls to the reality fossil fuels created. For over 40 years, our most powerful people and institutions collectively ignored climate scientists, and now the deadly consequences have arrived at all our doorsteps," wrote American climate activist Emily Atkin in her weekly newsletter- Heated.

These extreme weather events getting played on the loop across news channels might seem like scenes from a dystopian movie, but they’re really happening as I pen this post. There is no doubt that we are in a climate emergency and we are all in this crisis together. But what does the heatwave or floods tell us? We have to move away from fossil fuel usage before any mitigation plan can be attempted.


‘Planet Nama’ is an exploration of our impact on the natural environment