“Customers have dropped significantly as people are hardly coming out of their homes during the day,” laments Saji, a middle-aged man who runs a bakery in Kochi. For him, doing mundane work at his store becomes a draining affair as the temperature in Kerala soars.
The increase in the “feels-like temperature” has impacted people from all walks of life in the coastal state.
According to a report prepared by the Kerala State Disaster Management Authority (KSDMA) last week, parts of the state were experiencing a “heat index” of more than 54 degree Celsius, the reason why people now feel it is too hot in Kerala.
കേരളത്തിൽ പൊതുവെ ചൂട് കൂടുന്ന സാഹചര്യത്തിൽ കേന്ദ്ര കാലാവസ്ഥ വകുപ്പിൻറെ (IMD) ഓട്ടോമാറ്റിക്ക് കാലാവസ്ഥ മാപിനികൾ വഴി ലഭ്യമാകുന്ന താപനില, ആപേക്ഷിക ആർദ്രത എന്നീ വിവരങ്ങളുടെ അടിസ്ഥാനത്തിൽ പഠനാവശ്യങ്ങൾക്കായി സംസ്ഥാന ദുരന്ത നിവാരണ അതോറിറ്റി തയ്യാറാക്കുന്ന താപസൂചിക ഭൂപടം. pic.twitter.com/gjqr5t7iw7
— Kerala State Disaster Management Authority (@KeralaSDMA) March 9, 2023
‘Feels-like’ temperature in Kerala has risen. What is it?
Fahad Marzook, a hazard analyst at KSDMA, explained to South First that the heat index, or the feels-like temperature, is a measure of heat produced after calculating the combination of atmospheric temperature and humidity.
“Heat index is calculated in many foreign nations, especially in the US and European nations. In India, we haven’t been calculating it. However, as humidity is high in Kerala, there has been a long-standing demand to calculate the heat index,” said Marzook.
He added that although the KSDMA has been requesting the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) to provide the data, it is not being calculated.
Kerala heat index a research project
Marzook said that the Kerala body has started calculating the heat index as a research project and added that the data will not be shared with the public.
According to Marzook, as per the IMD forecast, an abnormal rise in temperature in Kerala is not expected and he assumes that parts of the state would receive pre-monsoon rains in the month of March itself. The normal date for the monsoon to hit the state is 1 June.
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Why is Kerala so hot? Sunburns & chance of respite
“In Kerala, peak summer is between the months of March and mid-April. This is the time when the sun’s rays impact our region vertically. The vertical rays travel shorter distances compared to when there is a slant in the sun’s rays and the ultraviolet index will be high,” Abhilash S, an associate professor at the Department of Atmospheric Sciences, Cochin University of Science and Technology (CUSAT), told South First.
“A higher UV index can bring about a scenario where there can be more sunburns,” he warned.
According to him, large-scale urbanisation and lack of vegetation cover are also major factors for the excess temperature in Kerala.
Abhilash said that the heat in Kerala increased abnormally in February due to an anti-cyclonic circulation in the northern land, but the situation has now changed.
“This circulation has gone away along different routes. If it had stayed, the heat would have been higher. However, the air from anti-cyclone circulation converges through the state and it is due to this convergence that Kerala will experience rain in the next two to three days,” he added.
— Kerala State Disaster Management Authority (@KeralaSDMA) March 15, 2023
Impact on agri sector due to rising Kerala temperature
“In areas like Kaduthuruthy, Manjur, and Ayarkunnam of the Kottayam district, this is the time when vegetables are being grown for Vishu (the Malayali New Year). Due to the rising temperature and the lack of availability of water for irrigation, these farmers are in crisis,” said Aby Ipe, leader of the Karshaka Congress, a farmer’s union affiliated to the Congress party.
According to Ipe, the heat wave in Kerala has also had significant adverse impacts on rubber production and dairy farming. While the heat drastically reduced the yield from rubber trees, the disappearing grass to feed the cows impacted the dairy sector.
Ipe said that many farmers have been using borewells to pump water to sustain their crops and electricity charges are provided at subsidised rates by the government.
However, he requested the state government to consider waiving the electric charges during the months in Kerala that are extremely hot, adding this would be a relief to the farmers.
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Cool refreshment centres in hot Kerala
On Sunday, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who is also ex-officio chairman of the Kerala State Disaster Management Authority, released a statement that explained precautions the KSDMA has been taking to avoid an adverse scenario in the state due to the rising heat.
Taking into account the chances of heat waves and sunburns in people, Vijayan said that refreshment centres called “Thanneer Panthals” will be set up under all local self governments in the state and they will continue to be available until the end of May.
“Thanneer Pandals will have buttermilk, cold water, and essential ORS. The general public will be informed about the location of such centres in each district. The government has also devised plans to set up special centres in areas where temperatures are extreme to ensure a temporary cooling,” read a statement by Vijayan.
Vijayan said that the safety of students and employees of government services is of utmost importance and the labour department has made adjustments to their work timings.
Also Read: India to experience heat waves that break human survivability limit
As students may experience heat stress combined with normal stress during the examinations, the Kerala government has decided to ensure ventilation in all exam halls and provide cold drinking water to the students appearing for examinations.
According to Vijayan, only through such comprehensive and grassroots interventions can the worsening summer heat waves in Kerala be combatted.
He further requested the cooperation of the public.
“Let us face the summer without panic,” Vijayan’s statement said in conclusion.