The weeks of persistently high temperatures are evident in the close up image of south-central India, where regions of pale yellow indicate where the land surface temperatures averaged more than 50 degrees C. Parts of India were as hot as Africa’s Sahara Desert (left center of top image). Notice the impact of both vegetation and altitude on land surface temperatures. At top left of the close-up image, the vegetation along the Indus River plain cuts a cooler red swath through the hotter (yellow), more arid terrain. To the right of center, the areas of hot yellow give way to cooler reds in eastern India and Bangladesh, where the Ganges River splits into numerous, vegetation-lined channels before emptying into the Bay of Bengal (lower right). The high peaks of the Himalaya Mountains as well as parts of the Tibetan Plateau appear purplish-pink.
The heat wave has persisted for so long at least in part because the seasonal monsoon rains were a week late. As of June 6, 2003, rains had begun to arrive, giving some regions a desperately needed break from the heat. Much of the country was already struggling with drought after last year’s monsoon failed to deliver much rain.
Land Surface Temperature data processing by Jesse Allen and provided courtesy of Zhengming Wan (UCSB SCF).