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Heat wave hits town before desert

Calcutta went from “hot” to “heat wave” on Sunday with the Celsius shooting up six degrees above normal to push 40, fuelled by loo-like dry winds from central India for the second consecutive day.

Desert cities like Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Dubai and Abu Dhabi were cooler by several degrees, their slow transition to summer in stark contrast to the scorching pace set by Calcutta.

The weather office declares heat-wave conditions when the maximum temperature rises five degrees above normal to either touch or cross 40. Sunday’s maximum recorded temperature was 39.9 degrees Celsius or 103.2 degrees Fahrenheit between 2.30 and 3pm, six notches higher than the normal reading of 34 degrees for this time of the year.

“The maximum reading was just 0.1 short of 40 degrees Celsius, yet six notches above normal. So we declared a heat wave,” said Gokul Chandra Debnath, director of the India Meteorological Department in Calcutta.

Jaipur was a balmy 31 degrees Celsius in comparison. Dubai’s day temperature was even lower at 28 degrees Celsius.

A senior scientist at IMD Calcutta said those places were still in the transition phase between winter and summer. “In these desert cities, the temperature usually shoots up in the first week of April,” he said.

In Bengal, the heat wave declared in the western districts is likely to spread to south Bengal by Monday. And there is little chance of rain coming into the picture.

Met officials said hot and dry winds blew across the western districts of Bengal and in Bihar and Jharkand on Sunday afternoon.

In Calcutta, roads that are usually busy on weekends looked deserted until evening. On the Maidan, it is usually difficult to find a vacant patch on a weekend with youngsters engaged in multiple cricket and football matches across the sprawling grounds.

At 11am this Sunday, not a single game was underway on the ground opposite the South Gate of Fort William.

“We usually play well beyond noon. Today, we couldn’t continue our game after 10.30am,” said Sk. Fahim, a resident of Entally.

A feature of the hot spell has been the lack of moisture in the air, reflected in the low relative humidity in Calcutta and its surroundings. Sunday’s minimum relative humidity, recorded at mid-day, was 29 per cent, marginally more than the 25 per cent that was recorded the previous day.

Monday is unlikely to make a difference. “High-pressure belts over the Bay of Bengal near the Bengal-Odisha coast that had been sending moisture inland have faded away. Now there is a high-pressure belt in central India that is pushing hot and dry winds towards the east,” Debnath said.

The drastic change in weather over the past few days has triggered illnesses, mainly viral infections resulting in sore throat, fever and gastroenteric disorders.

“Sore throat is a common problem with people who keep the air-conditioner at full blast through the night,” said critical care expert Subrata Maitra.

Anyone stepping out without adequate skin protection risks breaking out into heat rashes along with sunburn. Weakness and fatigue caused by dehydration is another complaint.

“It is best to use sunscreen lotion and avoid direct exposure to the sun when going out,” advised dermatologist and t2 columnist Sachin Varma (see chart).

Weather scientists aren’t sure how the weather in Gangetic Bengal would play out after Monday, but there is a possibility of a south-easterly wind bringing in moisture to cause clouding and a drop in the maximum temperature.

The IMD website predicts that the maximum will drop to 38 degrees by Tuesday and 37 by Wednesday. “The sun is beating down so hard because there is not a speck of cloud in the sky and the earth’s surface is receiving more solar radiation,” said an official at IMD Calcutta.

If Calcutta’s hot and dry weather over the weekend reminded many of Delhi in summer, rain on Saturday made the capital feel more like what Calcutta would like to. The maximum temperature in Delhi on Sunday was 31.7 degrees Celsius.

“The trajectory of western disturbances has been more south-bound this year. That is why Delhi and its adjoining areas are getting so much rain at this time of the year,” said L.S. Rathore, director-general of meteorology at IMD Delhi.

The weather in Delhi can’t be linked to the unusual conditions in Bengal, though.

survival tips when celsius soars to 40

WHEN YOU ARE OUTSIDE

Carry an umbrella. An umbrella prevents direct exposure to sun, protecting the body from getting heated and the skin from getting tanned and developing rashes.

Wear sunglasses. Sunglasses are not fashion statements but a necessity in this season. The ultraviolet rays are harmful for eyes.

Carry a bottle of water. Sweating leads to loss of electrolytes, leading to dehydration, weakness and fatigue. The electrolytes can be replenished by drinking fluids with lemon and salt.

Use sunscreen lotion. The UV rays are harmful to the skin and can cause acute sunburn, tanning and allergic rashes. The sunscreen prevents this.

Wear light cotton clothes. Cotton allows sweat to evaporate and so there is less chance of getting heat rash.

Don't eat cut fruit. Cut fruits might contain harmful bacteria and virus that become active in such temperature conditions and make you fall ill.

WHEN INDOORS

Don’t take a cold bath immediately after coming in from outside. The body needs to be given sometime to adjust to the lower temperature. Otherwise you might catch a cold.

Don’t put the AC on full blast throughout the night. You may wake up with a sore throat.

Don’t drink chilled water. The body can't adjust to the sudden change in temperature leading to ailments including muscle spasm and viral infection.

Eat light food. Spicy and oily food and animal protein generate lot of energy through metabolism and this adds to the discomfort in conditions where the ambient temperature is high.