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Celsius strikes 13, spies 11 today

Calcutta woke up to the bite of 13 degrees Celsius on Tuesday, a chilly comeback that the weather office described as “a cold wave” without precedent in the second half of February.

And just in case you are wondering, this isn’t a flash…er…chill in the pan. The cold wave is tipped to continue at least till Friday with the scales tipped in favour of a season’s low of 11 degrees Celsius on Wednesday.

The minimum temperature on Tuesday was five degrees below normal for this time of the year, which qualifies to be called a cold wave in meteorological terms.

If the Met office’s forecast for Wednesday comes true, the day’s minimum Celsius reading would beat the 11.3 degrees recorded on January 9, the peak of winter in the city.

The chill is expected to endure over the next two days, which should safely make the fag end of this winter the most bizarre in memory.

The India Meteorological Department’s “extreme weather chart” for February in the last 10 years includes 10.8 degrees Celsius on February 3, 2008, 11.6 degrees on February 3, 2012, and 12 degrees on February 5, 2004 (see chart).

While all these readings are from the first week of the month, what’s unique about 2014 is that the second half of February is seeing the return of the chill-laden North Wind that usually blows at the height of winter.

The pattern of unusual weather in Calcutta was set several months ago, starting with monsoon.

The rainy season in 2013 gained momentum late, resulting in more rainfall in October than in July, which is supposed to be the peak of monsoon.

The reason for the late surge was Cyclone Phailin, which made for a wet Durga Puja. Three more cyclones — Helen, Lehar and Madri — were born in the Bay of Bengal soon after but stayed away from the Bengal coast.

Weather records show that this many cyclones were recorded in these parts in October and November for the first time in 24 years.

“All this put together makes for a very unusual picture,” said Mrutyunjay Mohapatra, director of the cyclone warning division at IMD, New Delhi.

The weather hasn’t been unusual in Calcutta alone. From the US to Canada, England to Japan, quirky weather has troubled people and vexed weather scientists.

Chicago is freezing under six to eight inches of snow. In Tokyo, 10 inches of snow paralysed life on Sunday. Some 6,000 homes in England have been damaged in sudden floods.

Closer home, Tiger Hill in Darjeeling received snow on Monday, as did parts of Sikkim.

It may take several years — maybe decades — of study to say for certain if the patterns being recorded across the globe signify permanent changes or whether they are linked, meteorology experts said.

A senior scientist with the IMD said more scientific evidence was required to establish a connection between the extremities of weather worldwide in 2013-14.

“To identify a long-term pattern, global-scale weather systems such as monsoon have to be studied along with all the regional wind circulations for many years. Prima facie, weather events around the world, including the extended winter in parts of India, is linked but it is too early to say for sure,” the official said.

But for most Calcuttans, the return of the chill is a reason to rejoice. “The best thing about this weather is the opportunity it offers for a late tee-off. It’s nice and chilly, so you can comfortably tee-off at 8am because the weather’s still cool. Otherwise, by 12.30pm, it’s too hot to finish an 18-hole game,” said Karan Singh, 26, at the Royal Calcutta Golf Club.

Fellow golfer Vikash Kandoi, 36, said the weather couldn’t have been better for a round of golf followed by snacks.

“There’s a slight breeze and it changes the way one plays the game. I have not yet given up my winter wear for golf. The best part is having the pyaaz ka pakoda that has been introduced in the main Shamiana (at Royal) to suit the weather!”

The forecast of 11 degrees Celsius for Wednesday is seven notches below normal, which meteorologists classify as “a severe cold wave”.

“After the rain on Sunday and Monday night, the atmosphere over Calcutta and its surroundings has been rid of moisture, allowing cold winds from the north to flow freely. Constant snowfall in Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh has made the wind chillier,” the IMD scientist said.

The minimum temperature is likely to be in the range of 11 to 13 degrees Celsius till Friday. Post-Friday, it is tipped to be around 15 degrees Celsius, still three rungs below normal.

Freaky weather or not, expect the winter-starved Calcuttan to exclaim: “Just chill!”