Heat and Health: Local Weather Gauges and Early Warning System Efforts Moving Forward In India

As the second peak heat season hits in India this month, I had the opportunity to meet with local groups and government officials to advance plans to install much-needed weather gauges and develop an early warning system to protect local communities against the life-threatening effects of extreme heat.  The severe October heat experienced by Ahmedabad this year, following a deadly summer heat wave, underscores the need for local preventative measures to warn and protect the most vulnerable population.  

Heat stress is a growing health concern in India and is the direct cause of many heat-related maladies, including heat exhaustion and heat stroke, and heat-related death.  Heat stress also increases the distribution and transmission of disease, specifically climate-sensitive waterborne and diarrheal illnesses.

To build resilience in local communities against climate change and extreme heat, local officials in Ahmedabad are planning to install six new weather gauges to monitor temperatures throughout the city.  The city currently only has one temperature gauge.  This valuable data will allow the city to warn the local community about severe heat in different neighborhoods in a systematic way, thus reducing the number of victims of heat stress.  This data will also be used to frame future strategies to guard against extreme heat waves and climate change.

An important next step in the weather gauges installation process will be the siting of gauges in Ahmedabad. The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) and the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) are collaborating with the Indian Institute of Public Health (IIPH) and NRDC to determine the best locations to monitor the temperature, humidity, and rainfall throughout the city. 

IIPH and NRDC are continuing our work to develop strategies to reduce the health effects of heat stress. After conducting an in-depth heat vulnerability assessment survey of Ahmedabad residents, we are now determining what preventable factors increase individuals’ heat vulnerability. We are incorporating the data gleaned from interviews and case analysis into this research to develop guidelines for an actionable Heat Health Early Warning System in Ahmedabad.

To help make such a Heat Health Early Warning System successful, the IMD is developing means to predict heat waves before they hit.  As an important first step, Dr. Kamaljit Ray, Dr. Manorama Mohanty, and Chicholikar J.R. of the IMD, presented a case study analyzing the various weather conditions that combined to cause the moderate and severe heat waves that affected the Gujarat region in May 2010.  Now that the contributing factors of such heat waves have been identified, the IMD will be in a better position to forecast the conditions that may cause future heat waves as a part of an early warning system.

In the coming months, we look forward to continuing our work with our partner, IIPH, and the city officials to install the weather gauges and create an effective heat health early warning system as a part of our broader effort to build the local population’s resilience against the rising temperatures.

(Neha Mathew and Meredith Connolly contributed to this post)