Why India's Dust Storms Are So Deadly This Year

The dust storm over Rajesthan, India.
The dust storm over Rajesthan, India.
Photo: AP

Dust storm season is in full throttle in India—and it’s turned deadly. At least 71 people, including at least five children, died over the weekend as a result of the wind-whipped dust and accompanying thunderstorms.


And the terror has spread far and wide, reports the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Dust has been blowing—at speeds of up to 67 miles per hour—from the northern state of Uttar Pradesh to the eastern state of West Bengal. In New Delhi, falling trees claimed the lives of five people. These deadly storms also resulted in downed power lines, delayed flights and trains, and displacement as homes collapsed.

Dust storms are common this time of year; India’s dry season is from April to June. This year, however, the season’s been much more intense than usual. Earlier this month, more than 100 people were killed in a separate wave of dust storms. State officials in India are still analyzing the devastation from the storms, which will continue into the week. In Uttar Pradesh, senior official Rajesh Sharma told The Associated Press he estimates more than 120 million people had been affected in some way.

“Thunderstorms like these are a normal part of spring climate in India,” Bob Henson, a writer and meteorologist at Weather Underground, wrote in an email to Earther. “What’s unusual this year is the strength of the downdraft winds.”

These winds start with hot, dry air rising into overhead thunderstorms, Henson explained. The rain cools this air, which descends back to Earth as strong winds. All this is what kicks up the dust on the ground, creating blinding conditions.

What’s making this year’s storms particularly bad is the record heat South Asia been seeing this year: Pakistan actually set a world record just earlier this month at 122.3 degrees Fahrenheit. “Record heat has been occurring over parts of South Asia this spring, so very hot, dry air is feeding into the storms and their damaging downdraft winds,” Henson said.

Now, with climate change, experts worry these types of record-breaking temperatures—and their ensuing storms—could become more common. Great.

Yessenia Funes is climate editor at Atmos Magazine. She loves Earther forever.