India is experiencing a powerful and deadly dust storm season this year. Over the weekend, 71 people were killed as a result of dust storms and related thunderstorms. The affected area stretches from the eastern state of West Bengal to Uttar Pradesh in the north. The storms are expected to continue through this week.
Though dust storms are common during India’s dry season (from April to June), this year has been particularly intense and destructive. As the 67-miles-per-hour dust whips across the landscape, it tears down trees, destroys homes, disrupts transportation and, worst of all, ends lives. Earlier this month, a separate outbreak of storms killed more than 100 people.
Indian state officials are working to assess the damage. Early estimates indicate that more than 120 million people were impacted by the recent dust storms. “Thunderstorms like these are a normal part of spring climate in India,” writer and meteorologist Bob Henson told Earther. “What’s unusual this year is the strength of the downdraft winds.” The hot, arid air rises into thunderstorms, where it is rapidly cooled. This cool air then returns toward the ground as strong winds.
Scientists believe that this year’s intense dust storm season may be fueled by the record heat that South Asia has experienced lately. Earlier in May, Nawabshah, Pakistan set the hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth, 50.2 degrees Celsius (122.3 degrees Fahrenheit). Under current conditions, the all-time heat record may not last long. This heat and the related dust storms are exactly the type of extreme weather events that scientists predicted would occur with greater frequency and intensity because of climate change.