Record-Breaking Heat Sears Southern Asia

Rajasthan's Thar Desert, located in northwest India. Image credit: Daniel Mennerich via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Southern Asia is on the tail-end of one of the worst heat waves seen in this region of the world in modern history, with several countries over the past few weeks measuring the hottest temperatures they’ve ever recorded. The historic warmth started in southeastern Asia during the middle of April, and the stifling heat has spread into India in recent days.

The brutality of this heat wave can seem oddly timed to those of us in the United States. We’re entering the waning days of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, when we expect the warmth and humidity of summer to greet us more frequently than the cool and comfortable days of the not-too-distant past. Even though it’s getting toasty enough to flip on the air conditioner in some regions, the spring we see here isn’t the spring our hemispheric neighbors experience around the world.

April, May, and June are typically the hottest months in southern Asia, where it never really gets all that cool to begin with. It would keep getting hotter through the summer if it weren’t for the monsoon, a seasonal pattern that brings clouds and ample rainfall that help to keep extreme temperatures at bay.

Clear skies over southern Asia allowed the afternoon sun to send temperatures soaring into the triple digits. Image Credit: NASA

This heat wave is the result of a persistent ridge of high pressure stuck over the region, occasionally nudging east (baking southeastern Asia) and jogging back west, where it’s now roasting India.

We tend to use the term “heat wave” loosely these days, but this event wasn’t fooling around. Several countries saw the hottest temperatures they’ve ever officially measured—mostly by just a hair—including a reading of 108.1°F in Laos on April 13 and 108.7°F in Cambodia two days later. Many other countries in the area saw similar (or even warmer) temperatures, but they fell just shy of breaking their all-time high-temperature records.

India also broke its nationwide all-time high temperature on May 19, when the official thermometer in Phalodi saw a high of 123.8°F, beating the previous all-time heat record of an even 123°F set nearby back in 1960. The unlucky town is located almost smack in the middle of the Thar Desert, a few hundred miles west of New Delhi and near the country’s border with Pakistan.

Phalodi’s 123.8°F reading approaches the upper bounds of the type of raw heat the weather is able to generate. Death Valley in California holds the world record for hottest temperature ever verifiably and accurately recorded, where the weather station in the southern California desert measured a high of 134°F on July 10, 1913. Including the Death Valley temperature, the United States has only officially seen two temperatures as hot as what Phalodi experienced during this heat wave: Lake Havasu City, Arizona, and Laughlin, Nevada, recorded temperatures of 128°F and 125°F respectively during a particularly brutal spell on June 29, 1994.

Aside from a brief reprieve (such as it was) from the heat brought about by Cyclone Roanu as it grazed India’s east coast, the intense spell of temperatures higher than 100°F will continue across much of central and northern India, as well as the deserts of Pakistan, through the beginning of June. 

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Britain Is in the Midst of a Rare ‘Wind Drought’
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Generating renewable energy in Britain is a little less than a breeze these days: A “wind drought” is halting the country’s wind turbines.

This month’s wind energy output is down 40 percent from the same time last year, New Scientist reports. On average, about 15 percent of Britain’s electricity comes from wind power. Data starting from July 1 of this year put the monthly average closer to 6.9 percent. Last month, turbines were producing less than 2 percent of Britain’s electricity—the lowest output in two years.

That’s with even more wind turbines being installed over the course of the past year, New Scientist says. The data aren’t entirely surprising, though. The jet stream tends to make the UK’s weather drier and calmer during the summer and wetter and stormier during the winter. But the high pressure the jet stream has brought with it this year has been unusually prolonged, scientists say.

“It’s like a lid, it keeps everything still,” UK Met Office spokesperson Grahame Madge told New Scientist. “From the forecast looking out over the next couple of weeks, there doesn’t seem to be any significant change on the way.”

The wind drought shouldn’t cause too many problems in the short term. Electricity demand is low during the summer (very few British homes have air conditioning), and the country’s been able to compensate for the lack of wind by burning more natural gas. If the wind drought continues to persist, though, UK residents may begin to see an increase in utility fees. Natural gas prices have already risen with the increased demand.

“As we continue to transition to a low-carbon energy system, managing the intermittency of renewable power an important role in balancing supply and demand,” a National Grid spokesperson told New Scientist. “However, we have planned for these changes and [are] ready to play our part.”

The wind drought comes about eight years after British politicians vowed to reduce the UK's dependence on fossil fuels. Last year was the first year that electricity generated from low-carbon energy sources like solar power, wind power, and nuclear power outpaced high-carbon energy sources like coal and natural gas. This summer’s wind drought may make it difficult to improve on last year’s numbers.

[h/t New Scientist]

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Drought Reveals Ancient Sites in Scotland That Can Only Be Spotted From the Air
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Typically rainy Scotland is in the middle of an unusually dry summer—and local archaeologists are taking advantage of it. As the BBC reports, the drought has revealed ancient sites, including Roman camps and Iron Age graves, that have been hidden by farm soil for years.

Historic Environment Scotland has been conducting aerial surveys of the country's landscape since the 1930s, but it's in seasons like this, when the crops recede during dry weather, that the buried remains of ancient structures are easiest to spot. Conditions this summer have been the best since 1976 for documenting archaeological sites from the sky.

Aerial view of field.
Historic Environment Scotland

The crescent-shaped crop mark in the photo above indicates a souterrain, or underground passageway, that was built in the Scottish Borders during the Iron Age. The surveyors also found remains of a Roman temporary camp, marked by straight lines in the landscape, built in modern-day Lyne—an area south of Edinburgh already known to have housed a complex of Roman camps and forts.

Aerial view of field.
Historic Environment Scotland

In the image below you'll see four small ditches—three circles and one square—that were likely used as burial sites during the Iron Age. When crops are planted over an ancient ditch, they have more water and nutrients to feed on, which helps them grow taller and greener. Such crops are especially visible during a drought when the surrounding vegetation is sparse and brown.

Aerial view of field.
Historic Environment Scotland

Historic Environment Scotland has a team of aerial surveyors trained to spot the clues: To date, they've discovered more than 9000 archaeological sites from the air. HSE plans to continue scoping out new areas of interest as long as the dry spell lasts.

It's not just in Scotland that long-hidden settlements are coming to light: similar aerial surveys in Wales are finding them too.

[h/t BBC]

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