On a sunny Saturday afternoon, in the heart of Shillong’s iconic Police Bazaar, customers rummaged through mounds of clothes piled next to Biolin Pyrtuh.
For 15 years now, Pyrtuh has conducted her business in this fashion: out in the open in her ‘shop’ — essentially a few tarpaulin-covered boxes heaped with clothes — at the exact spot, the first among the many that line the crowded streets of Police Bazaar. But never, she said, has she felt “so hot” while doing so.
“There have been warm days before, but this April has been very bad,” Pyrtuh said.
Her 20-year-old daughter Krishamari, added, “Even an umbrella doesn’t help, the sun burns our skin.”
Last week, the mother–daughter duo, for the first time in their lives, bought a pair of floppy hats: white, with a string that can be fastened around your chin, a new addition to their traditional jainsem attire, to “fight the sun”.
Across the street, in the 90-year-old sweetshop, Delhi Mistan Bhandar, another Shillong icon, 76-year-old jalebi-maker Sukhdeb Rai, got a small fan installed in his corner of the store. “I came to Shillong in 1968. It was never like this… we would wear jackets throughout the year, but now it is not the case.”
As the first proper spell of rain beat down in Shillong on Sunday, after nearly 10 days, it spelt a reprieve for its residents, who have been dealing with temperatures hovering between 27 and 29.1 degrees Celsius in the past week.
“Shillong used to be the combined hill station for the entire north-east … an escape with just the right climate for people coming from the plains for their holidays,” said Shillong Times editor Patricia Mukhim. “April came and suddenly the mercury went into a tailspin. Earlier, we never used to require fans — but now we do.”
The north-eastern region is not used to prolonged hot spells. In fact, Arunachal Pradesh is the only north-eastern state to figure among the 23 states that are known to be prone to heatwaves. This year, however, has been slightly different. Many places in the region have been facing an unusually hot April. It is not the same as what eastern and central India are facing, but there is a deviation from the normal conditions nonetheless.
In other parts of Meghalaya, in the Garo Hills, which are at a lower elevation and consist of plain areas too, temperatures had hit 36 degrees Celsius. The government responded by issuing advisories and, in a first, in several districts of the Garo Hills, ordering closure of schools.
A scientist at the Meteorological Centre Shillong, Meghalaya, said these temperatures were a “distinct departure from normal”.
“For example Resubelpara in Garo Hills, it was crossing 37-38 degrees. Even by conservative standards, it is high… in the hilly areas, it was touching 29, causing great discomfort,” the scientist said.
But it is not Meghalaya alone, across the north-east, capital cities faced “near heatwave” conditions in the last week, officials said. Since Sunday, with the India Meteorological Centre (IMD) forecasting a wet spell across the region, temperatures have dropped.
“But the past one week has been particularly hot,” said an official from the Regional Meteorological Centre, Guwahati. “It was officially not a ‘heatwave’, but we can say it was near a heatwave.”
Previous records broken
Temperatures have been high, at least 5 to 6 degrees above normal for this time of the year, the scientist said, adding that while these had not broken previous records, the difference was that the spell continued for a prolonged period.
Data from the IMD shows that between April 10 and 20, temperatures hovered between 36.7 degrees and 39.3 degrees in Agartala (Tripura) and 31.5 degrees and 35 degrees in Imphal (Manipur). Hill towns like Kohima (Nagaland) and Aizawl (Mizoram) have recorded maximum temperatures of 29.2 degrees and and 34.5 degrees, respectively in the past week.
The Tripura government issued advisories and ordered closure of schools till Sunday.
“As a hill town, it is usually pleasant here. But for the first time, we are really feeling the heat,” said a resident of Aizawl.
Dr Rahul Mahanta, Director, Center for Clouds and Climate Change Research, and Associate Professor, Physics department, Guwahati Cotton University, said that rains and thunderstorms, common in the region in these months were “completely absent” this year.
“North-east India receives 30 per cent of its annual rainfall — in the form of local severe thunderstorms — during pre-monsoon months of March, April and May. These were missing this year till the third week of April. These thunderstorms usually keep the temperature down over the region.”
As per IMD data, between 12 and 19 April, Arunachal Pradesh subdivision recorded the departure of 90 per cent rainfall, Assam and Meghalaya subdivision recorded the departure of 92 per cent rainfall, and Nagaland Manipur Mizoram and Tripura subdivision recorded the departure of 97 per cent rainfall.
According to the IMD, rainfall is likely to continue for the next three days. However, the wet spell may abate again after a week, officials said.
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