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Delhi temperature may break record for highest ever in India: 126.1 degrees

Workers struggle amid India's brutal heatwave
Poorer workers struggle amid India's brutal heatwave 01:56

A temperature reading collected in Delhi, India's capital territory, may have broken national records as the country grapples with a blistering heat wave. The reading — 52.9 degrees Celsius or 126.1 degrees Fahrenheit — was preliminary and technically an outlier compared with others taken in Delhi on the same day, officials said. But, if confirmed, it would be the highest temperature ever registered anywhere in India.

The temperature reading came from a substation in Mungeshpur, a neighborhood in Delhi. Located in the northwest, India's capital territory — which includes its capital city, New Delhi — is home to almost 30 million people and covers about 600 square miles of land. The Indian Meteorological Department said in a news release that the reading out of Mungeshpur could be due to a sensor issue or some other error, and that it would examine the data and the sensor. In Delhi, substations in various locations generally registered temperatures between 45.2 degrees and 49.1 degrees Celsius, which corresponds roughly to 113 degrees and 120 degrees Fahrenheit.   

Amid the heat wave, people in Delhi as well as the northern states Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh were advised to avoid heat exposure under a "red" weather alert issued on Tuesday and Wednesday by the Indian Meteorological Department. The red alert, designating "heat wave to severe heat wave" conditions, urged people to keep cool if possible and stay hydrated, as at least three deaths have been reported so far in connection with the weather, according to the BBC, a CBS News partner. 

The Indian Meteorological Department issues red alerts for "extreme heat" when a severe heat wave persists for more than two days. The alerts advise people to "take action" and warn of a "very high likelihood of developing heat illness and heat stroke" for people of all ages while also calling for "extreme care" for vulnerable populations. A spokesperson for the department said in the latest daily weather bulletin on Wednesday that excessive heat continued to persist across the north but was expected to abate starting Thursday.

A woman covered with a cloth to protect herself from the heat walks on a road during a heatwave in Ahmedabad
A woman covered with a cloth to protect herself from the heat walks on a road during a heatwave in Ahmedabad, India, May 29, 2024. Amit Dave/REUTERS

Temperatures soared outside of Delhi, too. On Tuesday it was 50.5 degrees Celsius, or nearly 123 degrees Fahrenheit, in the area around one substation in Rajasthan, a desert state that in the past has recorded some of India's highest-ever temperature readings, according to the Indian Meteorological Department. Another substation in the city of Sirsa, which is farther north, came up with a similar reading Tuesday, at 50.3 degrees Celsius or roughly 122.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

Heat waves are most common in India during this time of year, according to the meteorological service, which says they tend to happen between March and June, with peak heat in May. But heat waves in the region have been especially treacherous recently. In April, hundreds of people across Asia died as a result of extremely high temperatures, in India, Bangladesh, Thailand and Gaza, as well as other places. In India, that heat wave drove triple-digit temperatures in a number of areas, including in the eastern city of Bhagora where the temperature approached 115 degrees Fahrenheit. The weather damaged crops and forced school closures that came prematurely, weeks ahead of the planned summer break.

A study on the extreme weather released earlier this month by the organization World Weather Attribution said climate change amplified what may have already been a strong heat wave to make it especially severe. Around that time, Raghu Murtugudde, a climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Technology Mumbai, told CBS News that El Niño may have played a role as well.

"I think it's a mix of El Niño, global warming and the seasonality," Murtugudde said. "El Niño is transitioning to La Niña. This is the time when the maximum warming happens towards the Indian Ocean. So, all these things are basically adding steroids to the weather."

Arshad R. Zargar and Li Cohen contributed reporting.

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