Home » Heatwave Inferno: India’s Worst Summer Heat in Recent History

Heatwave Inferno: India’s Worst Summer Heat in Recent History

by Azra Alware

A van parking in a heat wave, with visible heat distortion in the air. The surroundings appear hazy and the heat is intense.Credit: Upsplash


As we reflect on the summer season, it becomes evident that the impact of extreme heat on our environment and communities cannot be ignored. It is imperative to address the underlying factors contributing to rising temperatures and to implement strategies to mitigate the effects of heat waves in the future. By understanding and actively responding to this ongoing issue, we can work towards creating a more resilient and sustainable future. Examining the historical records of these extreme weather events, we gain insights into the magnitude of India’s ongoing struggle against escalating temperatures.

The summer season in India is characterized by intense heat, but in recent years, the mercury has been rising to new heights. A combination of geographical factors, such as location near the equator, bounded by the Indian Ocean, and changing monsoon pattern, contribute to India’s susceptibility to heatwaves. Additionally, urbanization and the heat island effect amplify the impact of rising temperatures in densely populated areas. The heat island effect refers to the phenomenon where urban areas experience significantly higher temperatures compared to surrounding rural areas. It occurs due to the concentration of buildings, roads, concrete, and other infrastructure in cities, which absorb and retain heat from the sun.

While the current heat waves may be testing our endurance, it is important to recognize that India has faced even severe heat waves in the past. The historical records reveal instances of prolonged heat spells with temperatures surpassing all-time highs and wreaking havoc on human health, agriculture, and the environment. These past events call for an urgent need to address the escalating temperatures and develop effective strategies to mitigate the adverse effects.

What are Heat Waves?

Imagine going outside and feeling a strong wave of heat sweep over you, as though you were standing in an invisible oven. The scorching rays of the sun are harsh, air stuffy, and no ease that comes from a fresh breeze. An intense heat wave is precisely what it is.


A heatwave is not just your typical hot summer day. It’s an extended period of relentless heat, often lasting for several days or even weeks. During this time, temperatures soar to extreme levels, surpassing the usual summer norms. It’s like nature has turned up the thermostat, subjecting us to an unrelenting furnace of heat.


What makes a heatwave even more challenging is the combination of high humidity and minimal relief during the night. The air becomes heavy, clinging to your skin, making it difficult to find respite even indoors. The nights offer no solace, as the heat lingers, depriving us of the cool reprieve we desperately crave.


Heatwaves have wide-ranging effects. In particular,  the elderly, children, and individuals with underlying medical issues are vulnerable to the serious consequences. During these times, heat-related ailments including heat exhaustion and heatstroke are more common. On the other hand, crops and agriculture suffer as well; plants wilt and struggle to live in the hot sun. Additionally, it stresses the ecosystems and increases the danger of wildfires.


Although heat waves can be frightening, knowledge and preparation will help mitigate the consequences. We can navigate through these extreme weather events with resilience and shield ourselves from disastrous effects by keeping educated, staying aware and implementing proactive measures to battle the heat.

Causes of Heat Waves

Heatwaves are the outcome of a complex interplay of many different elements. It is essential to recognise these reasons to understand why and how they are related to human activity and climate change.


The current weather patterns are one of the main causes of heatwaves. When high-pressure systems become stationary over a region, a dome of hot air frequently forms, acting as a lid to trap heat near the Earth’s surface. This prevents heat from dispersing and instead leads to high temperatures to accumulate.


The frequency and intensity of heatwaves are also significantly influenced by the planet’s warming as a result of climate change. Fossil fuel combustion and deforestation are two examples of human activities that produce greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, which trap heat and cause global warming. As a result, heatwaves happen more frequently, last longer, and get hotter.

India’s Worst Five Heat Waves

  • May 2015

The heatwave in May 2015 was one of the deadliest in India’s history, affecting several states across the country. With temperatures soaring above 45 degrees Celsius, it claimed the lives of thousands of people. The states of Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, and Odisha were among the ones that were hardest hit, with scorching temperatures and prolonged heatwave conditions. There were more than 1,700 deaths due to heat waves.

  • May 2010

In May 2010, India experienced another severe heat wave that swept across multiple regions like Delhi, Rajasthan, and Gujarat. The heatwave took a toll on public health, causing heat-related illnesses and fatalities. According to the NDMA (National Disaster Management Authority), the heat wave resulted in more than 1,000 fatalities.

  • May 2002

The heat waves in May 2002 brought extreme temperatures to many parts of India, particularly in the northwestern states. With temperatures surpassing the usual Celsius, it posed significant health risks and led to numerous fatalities. The state of Arunachal Pradesh faced particularly harsh conditions, with prolonged heat wave spells affecting both rural and urban populations. The majority of individuals who perished in the heat wave were elderly and poor, who were unable to resist the extreme temperatures.

  • April 1973

In April 1973, India experienced an early-season heatwave that affected multiple states. Parts of northern India, including Orissa, experienced scorching temperatures, with some regions recording temperatures above 40° C. The heatwave disrupted daily life and posed challenges for agriculture and livestock, impacting both urban and rural communities. There is a lack of reliable data regarding the exact number of casualties.

  • May 1956

The heatwave in May 1956 stands out as one of the most intense in India’s history. Numerous regions witnessed soaring temperatures, surpassing the conventional temperature in certain areas. The extreme heatwave conditions resulted in widespread discomfort, health issues, and even loss of life. The majority of papers that are readily accessible to the public only provide the temperature record and date, therefore little is known about the effects of this heat wave. 

Preventive measures against Heat Waves

It is essential to take precautions against heat waves to reduce health risks and ensure the welfare of people and communities. People can lessen their susceptibility to high heat by adhering to these preventative measures:

  • Remain hydrated: Avoid coffee and alcohol as these can lead to dehydration. Drink lots of water instead.
  • Seek shade and cool places. During the warmest times of the day, stay indoors and utilise fans or air conditioning to stay cool.
  • Done Appropriate attire. Wear airy, loose-fitting clothes that allow good airflow.
  • Limit your outside activities: Avoid vigorous exercise, and schedule your outdoor activities for when it’s cooler outside.


To avoid subsequent heat waves, it is crucial to address their underlying causes in addition to taking personal precautions. This calls for coordinated efforts and long-term plans:

  • By switching to renewable energy sources and implementing sustainable practices across a range of industries, we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Improved urban planning to lessen the impact of the urban heat island effect, provide heat-resistant infrastructure such as green areas, rooftop gardens, and cool pavements.
  • By increasing public readiness and awareness as communities should be informed about the dangers of heat waves. It can be achieved through early warning systems establishment of the and the cooling centers.
  • Encourage sustainable lifestyles to lessen the overall impact of heat by encouraging energy saving, smart water usage, and sustainable transportation alternatives.


So, as we face the heat of the present, let’s remember that the heatwaves of the past tested our resilience. By implementing preventive measures and addressing the root causes, we can pave the way for a cooler and more sustainable future. Armed with pertinent information and driven by an unwavering resolve, we must collectively take a stand to protect our communities, the planet and ourselves. It is imperative that we unite in a shared commitment to confront the challenges posed by climate change.

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