Climate of India

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GEOGRAPHY

Introduction

  • Climate is an important element of the physical environment of mankind. It is the aggregate of atmospheric conditions involving heat, moisture and air movement.
  • Climate refers to the sum total of weather conditions and variations over a large area for a long period of time (more than thirty years). Weather refers to the state of the atmosphere over an area at any point of time. The elements of weather and climate are the same, i.e. temperature, atmospheric pressure, wind, humidity and precipitation.
  • The climate of India is described as the ‘monsoon’ type. In Asia, this type of climate is found mainly in the south and the southeast.  

Climatic Control

There are six major controls of the climate of any place.

  1. Latitude: the Tropic of Cancer passes through the central part of India in east-west direction. Thus, northern part of the India lies in sub-tropical and temperate zone and the part lying south of the Tropic of Cancer falls in the tropical zone. The tropical zone being nearer to the equator, experiences high temperatures throughout the year with small daily and annual range. Area north of the Tropic of Cancer being away from the equator, experiences extreme climate with high daily and annual range of temperature.
  2. Altitude: Temperature decreases with height. Due to thin air, places in the mountains are cooler than places on the plains. For example, Agra and Darjeeling are located on the same latitude, but temperature of January in Agra is 16°C whereas it is only 4°C in Darjeeling.
  3. Pressure and wind system: The pressure and wind system of any area depend on the latitude and altitude of the place. Thus it influences the temperature and rainfall pattern
  4. Distance from the sea (continentality): With a long coastline, large coastal areas have an equable climate. Areas in the interior of India are far away from the moderating influence of the sea. Such areas have extremes of climate. That is why; the people of the Konkan coast have hardly any idea of extremes of temperature and the seasonal rhythm of weather. On the other hand, the seasonal contrasts in weather at places in the interior of the country such as Kanpur and Amritsar affect the entire sphere of life.
  5. Ocean currents: Ocean currents along with onshore winds affect the climate of the coastal areas, For example, any coastal area with warm or cold currents flowing past it, will be warmed or cooled if the winds are onshore.
  6. Relief features: The physiography or relief of India also affects the temperature, air pressure, direction and speed of wind and the amount and distribution of rainfall. The windward sides of Western Ghats and Assam receive high rainfall during June-September whereas the southern plateau remains dry due to its leeward situation along the Western Ghats.

Weather Conditions in winter

Surface Pressure and Winds

During northern hemisphere’s winter, high pressure is built up in the Central and West Asia. This centre of high pressure gives rise to the flow of air at the low level from the north towards the Indian subcontinent, south of the Himalayan mountain range, in the form of a dry continental air mass. These continental winds come in contact with trade winds over north-western India. The contact zone is not stable and sometimes it shifts up to the middle Ganga valley thus bringing the entire north-western India under the influence of the north-westerly winds.

Jet stream and Upper Air Circulation

  • A different pattern of air circulation is observed at a height of about 3 km above the surface. Direction and velocity of winds at this height are different from those of the surface winds.
  • All of Western and Central Asia remains under the influence of westerly winds along the altitude of 9-13 km from west to east. These winds blow across the Asian continent at latitudes north of the Himalayas roughly parallel to the Tibetan highlands. These are known as Jet Streams.
  •  Tibetan highlands act as a barrier in the path of these jet streams. As a result, jet streams gets bifurcate – one to the south and other to the north of this mountain chain along 25° N latitude.
  • This jet stream is responsible for bringing western disturbances4 from the Mediterranean region into Indian sub-continent. Winter rain and hail storms in north-western plains and occasional heavy snowfall in hilly regions are caused by these disturbances.  

Western Cyclonic Disturbance and Tropical Cyclones

  • The western cyclonic disturbances which enter the Indian subcontinent from the west and the northwest during the winter months originate over the Mediterranean Sea and are brought into India by the westerly jet stream.
  • An increase in the prevailing night temperature generally indicates an advance in the arrival of these cyclones disturbances. It brings little rain in winter months.
  • This rain is considered to be very good for wheat crops in northern plains. Tropical cyclones originate over the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean.
  • These tropical cyclones have very high wind velocity and heavy rainfall and hit the Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa coast. Most of these cyclones are very destructive due to high wind velocity and torrential rain that accompanies it.

Weather Conditions in the Summer

Surface Pressure and Winds

  • As the summer sets in and the sun shifts northwards, the wind circulation over the subcontinent undergoes a complete reversal at both, the lower as well as the upper levels.
  •  By the middle of July, the low pressure belt nearer the surface, termed as Inter Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), shifts northwards, roughly parallel to the Himalayas between 20° N and 25° N. It extends from Punjab to the Chota Nagpur plateau.
  • By this time, the westerly jet stream withdraws from the Indian region. There is a cause and effect relationship between the northward shift of the ITCZ and the withdrawal of the westerly jet stream from over the North Indian Plain.
  • Being an area of low pressure, the ITCZ attracts winds from all around. The maritime tropical airmass (mT) from the southern hemisphere, after crossing the equator, rushes to the low pressure area in the general south-westerly direction .
  • These winds cross the Equator between 40°E and 60°E longitudes. Blowing over the ocean for a long distance, they pick up a large amount of moisture. It is this moist air current which is popularly known as the southwest monsoon.

Jet Streams and Upper Air Circulation

At the upper layers of the troposphere, the winds blow in a direction reverse to that of the surface winds. An easterly jet stream flows over the southern part of the Peninsula in June, and has a maximum speed of 90 km per hour. In August, it is confined to 15 N latitude, and in September up to 22 N latitudes.

Tropical cyclones

The easterly jet stream steers the tropical depressions into India. These depressions play a significant role in the distribution of monsoon rainfall over the Indian subcontinent. The tracks of these depressions are the areas of highest rainfall in India. Their frequency, direction and intensity determine the rainfall pattern during the southwest monsoon period.

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