ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Uncertainty in Climate Science

Extreme Weather Events in India

In May 2018, multiple extreme weather events claimed scores of lives, damaged property and brought public life to a standstill in parts of India. In the aftermath of these events, a blame game ensued with some assigning responsibility to scientific and state agencies, and others calling for more research and accurate weather forecasts. It is important to recognise the uncertainties in climate science and embrace them in order to channel resources appropriately, attribute causality, build public trust, and improve policy effectiveness.

This article draws on interviews and research conducted for a Research Council of Norway-funded project, “Climate Change, Uncertainty and Transformation” (Project No 235449).

The authors are grateful to the many scientists and experts in India and Europe who spent time sharing their views and experiences. Names have been withheld for confidentiality purposes.

Dust storms, thunderstorms and lightning struck different parts of India (particularly Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Delhi) throughout May 2018. Though these events are not unusual in the peak summer months, their destructiveness caught authorities, the public, and climate scientists by surprise. Cumulatively, more than a hundred people died in the immediate aftermath (BBC 2018; Jamwal 2018), in addition to the extensive damage caused to property, crops, livestock and infrastructure.

Immediately following the events, questions cropped up as to why the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) failed to accurately provide forecasts and disseminate warnings in advance. How could such calamitous events pass by largely unnoticed? Politicians, such as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, accused the IMD of failing in one of its primary tasks: to inform the public of impending weather threats (Pandey 2018). In a defensive mode, scientists from the IMD and the National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (NCMRWF) stated that they communicated probability forecasts well in advance and it was the responsibility of the state authorities to take it to the “last mile” and alert people (Ashok 2018). The scientists also reaffirmed that they were aware of conditions that could precipitate weather extremes (for example, western disturbances, summer heat waves, etc), but that their localised impacts and timing over the mainland are difficult to predict within the existing state of knowledge (Jamwal 2018). Calls and promises for more research in this area followed instantly.

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Updated On : 4th Aug, 2018
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