The problem is also widespread across the country, affecting not only the typical hot spots in the northwest and southeast but also regions that aren’t used to seeing so much extreme heat, Mondal says. And the effects are even more stark because of a lack of rainfall so far this season.
“It’s part of a broader climate-change signal,” says Amir AghaKouchak, a climate researcher at the University of California, Irvine. India’s average annual temperature increased at a rate of 0.62 °C per 100 years between 1901 and 2020, according to data from the World Bank. And maximum temperatures have climbed even more quickly, at a rate of 0.99 °C every 100 years.
“People think a degree or two might not matter,” AghaKouchak says, but when average temperatures increase by even small amounts, it means extreme events are becoming more likely.
The effects of climate change on weather can sometimes be difficult to tease out. But for heat waves, researchers have “very high confidence” that climate change is making the problem worse, AghaKouchak says.
Heat can have devastating impacts on human health—356,000 deaths globally in 2019 were linked to extreme heat. The risk is greatest for elderly people and children, but anyone without adequate access to cooling can be affected, especially if heat continues for days at a time without letting up at night.