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Early warnings ‘helped in tackling heatwave’
November 11, 2017
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KARACHI: When an unseasonal and potentially deadly heatwave loomed on weather forecasts last month, authorities in this port city took an unusual step: They issued a public warning, a full week in advance.

Before the heat hit, text message warning of the danger went out to Karachi residents. Hospitals set aside extra beds for heat stroke victims. Water and power company officials were put on alert.

Ultimately the heatwave, with temperatures that reached 41°C, passed without claiming lives, Karachi Mayor Waseem Akhtar said.

But the warning — the first of its kind issued by the Pakistan Meteorological Department for Karachi — may set the stage for more lifesaving warnings next summer as climate change drives temperatures higher.

October temperatures in densely populated Karachi normally rise no higher than 35°C or 38°C, said Abdul Rashid, director of the Pakistan Meteorological Department office in Karachi. Heatwaves in October are “extremely rare incidents,” he said.

But being unprepared for extreme heat can be deadly.

In 2015, a June heatwave killed about 1,500 people in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, and left over 70,000 hospitalised, most with heat stroke.

Officials are now working to try to avoid a repeat of that heat disaster — a particular challenge as climate change brings ever-hotter years, particularly in already broiling South Asia.

“We now keep a closer watch on temperature, air, humidity (and) sunlight parameters of the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea, and register these parameters regularly in the weather charts, which helped predict the October heatwave more accurately and timely,” Rashid, of the met office, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The Karachi office also has its own heatwave forecast division, with advanced computer systems connected to five heatwave monitoring stations recently installed around the city, he said.

The system was set up following World Meteorological Organisation warnings that more frequent and intense heatwaves were becoming a possibility in the region.

In October, after spotting heat-producing weather conditions moving towards Pakistan from Mumbai and India’s Gujarat state, the office issued a warning to the Sindh provincial government, the Karachi commissioner and provincial disaster management authorities, Rashid said.

Reuters

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