Hailstorms in Delhi as freak cold in May delights residents - but is this erratic weather cause for concern?

People wait for public transport as it rains in New Delhi  (AP)
People wait for public transport as it rains in New Delhi (AP)

Parts of India are experiencing freak low temperatures along with unseasonal rain and hailstorms in mid-summer just weeks after record-breaking heat.

Delhi along with some areas of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh have seen hail and rainfall at 10-15 times the typical level this week.

On Thursday, Delhi was veiled in fog marking the third-coldest May morning on record. Typically, May is the hottest month of the year with temperatures close to 40C.

The extreme downpours come just weeks after India experienced its hottest February on record and an early heatwave in March.

Last summer India and neighbouring Pakistan witnessed the worst heatwave on record.

The sudden change in temperature has come as a relief to residents after a sweltering March and April but has left meteorologists concerned by the erratic shifts.

The changes have had significant impact on agriculture with farmers facing failing crops due to unpredictable rains and hail.

Many crops ready for harvest in parts of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra were destroyed by hailstones.

This is a clear example of what kind of climate impacts can be expected with global warming.

Mahesh Palawat, vice president, meteorology and climate change, Skymet Weather

More rain, thunderstorms, hail and lightning strikes are expected until Saturday in Delhi and parts of north India.

But the heavy precipitation won’t last long. 2023 is still expected to be one of the hottest and driest years on record, according to the Indian Metereological Department (IMD).

This is both due to the rising global temperatures caused by the climate crisis and an El Nino, a weather phenomenon which causes ocean warming and typically results in lower rainfall in India.

What is causing unseasonal rains in India?

The unseasonal rains and hailstorms are a result of several weather patterns, and the background effects of the climate crisis.

India has experienced its hottest December and February since records began.

Experts say warming in the region is directly connected to more moisture in the air, and in turn, increasing chances of early rainfall and a dangerous mix of heat and humidity that could be even more deadly.

Usually, pre-monsoon activities commence during the second half of March, Mahesh Palawat, vice president of meteorology and climate change at Skymet Weather, explained.

This year, an earlier-than-usual warmth in temperatures is believed to have led to an increase in moisture, triggering atmospheric processes relating to monsoon, which resulted in pre-monsoon showers early in the season, Mr Palawat says.

“This season, the abnormal temperatures have triggered multiple weather systems across several parts of the country. This is a clear example of what kind of climate impacts can be expected with global warming,” he adds.

Mr Palawat adds that rainfall during the summer season is usually confined to early morning or later afternoons, but such “prolonged spells” as currently witnessed, are “rare”.

“As the global mean temperatures continue to rise, we would see more of such weather activities at frequent intervals on account of increasing heat stress.”