Media Ignore Delhi’s Coldest May Since 1901

By Vijay Jayaraj

On May 4, India’s capital of New Delhi recorded the third coldest May morning since 1901. At 16 degree Celsius (60 Fahrenheit), the region’s 32 million residents woke up to a relatively cold morning in what is usually the hottest month of the year.

So why is there a record low temperature when the dominant mainstream narrative tells us that climate change has made our environs warmer than before? Is this just an aberration?

While Western media obsessed with the warm weather in Spain, India’s capital recorded a very cold summer morning. In fact, most of the cold-weather records in Delhi have gone unreported in Western media, which are mainly interested in showcasing the city’s extreme summer temperatures.

Neatly concealed from the public’s eye are the record low winter temperatures that Delhi has been witnessing since 2017. In December 2018, Delhi recorded an average minimum temperature of 7°C (44°F), the third lowest in the last 50 years. On December 30, 2019, the maximum temperature settled at 9°C (49°F), making it the coldest December day in 122 years.

As is the case globally, winter cold in Delhi is a bigger killer than summer heat. According to studies, short-term exposure to extreme temperature accounts for 6.5 percent of all deaths in India, with 88 percent of that amount caused by cold weather and only 12 percent by hot weather.

This is an example of media bias towards advancing a narrative of apocalyptic warming when reporting weather events. Also, part of this slanted reporting is the media’s failure to acknowledge the real reason behind the recording of all-time high summer temperatures: the urban heat island (UHI).

Urban Heat Island, Not Climate, Sets Records

During my stint as a climate consultant in New Delhi, I lived close to the Safdarjung temperature-measurement station. As per the Indian Meteorological Department, the highest maximum temperature ever recorded at Safdarjung was 47°C (117°F) on May 29, 1944.

This high temperature recorded nearly 80 years ago for this station has yet to be toppled by the 21st century warming that supposedly threatens us with doom, and the reason is probably the station’s location.

Unlike the other temperature monitoring stations in Delhi, the Safdarjung station is in a relatively greener section of the city. Thus, it is less susceptible to the Urban Heat Island effect, and, therefore, has not been registering the insanely high temperatures of 49°C (120°F) witnessed in and around Delhi.

Mahesh Palawat, vice-president of Skymet Weather Services, says, “Safdarjung weather station is located in a fairly green area, as compared to the rest of Delhi, which has a lot of heavily concretised spaces without much green cover. Temperatures in these parts of the city will therefore, understandably, be higher.”

So, the reason thermometers record new all-time highs in Delhi is because of urbanization’s concrete structures and pavements and other landscape changes. Weather officials also note that some of the newer automatic weather instruments used in highly urbanized areas may be prone to error.

“Most observatories in Delhi have automatic systems, which have a scope for error because they use bimetals, which can contract and expand during different weather conditions,” says an official of the India Meteorological Department in the Hindustan Times. He added that abnormal temperature spikes of the error-prone stations should be compared to the readings of older stations like Safdarjung to obtain “a more precise idea of the temperature.”

It takes just a bit of common sense to understand the artificial urban heat island impact on thermometers in cities and airports. However, preconceived notions of catastrophic warming pose serious hurdles to grasping this reality.

Delhi’s case illustrates that warming is not a continuous and unprecedented phenomenon as some claim it to be. Instead, we see at play a chaotic climate system at work with unpredictable weather patterns. Additionally, we must be mindful of the urban heat island impact when reading news bulletins about record-high summer temperatures.

Vijay Jayaraj is a Research Associate at the CO2 Coalition, Arlington, Virginia. He holds a master’s degree in environmental sciences from the University of East Anglia, UK and resides in India.

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