Space & Innovation

Why Is India's Heat Wave Off the Chart?

An oppressive heat wave in India led to a record temperature of 123.8 degrees Fahrenheit -- the highest ever in Asia.

It often gets really hot in May in Phalodi, a city in the arid northeastern Indian state of Pajasthan. But last Thursday, it got really, really hot.

The thermometer reading that day peaked at 51 degrees Celsius, the equivalent of 123.8 degrees Fahrenheit, the Times of India reported. For perspective, that's the hottest temperature ever recorded in India, beating the previous mark set back in 1956. It also was the third-highest temperature ever documented on Earth, exceeded only by the 134 degrees F in California's Death Valley on July 10, 1913, and the 131 degrees F in Kebili, Tunisia on July 7, 1931.

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It got so hot in the city of 45,000 inhabitants that those brave–or perhaps unwise–people who dared to venture outdoors despite an official curfew found it difficult to remain there long. One man, a government employee named Murari Lal Thanvi, told BBC News that the heat was so punishing that his mobile phone, which he was trying to use to take pictures, stopped functioning because of overheating.

"I was able to switch my mobile phone on after putting a wet cloth on it for about 20-25 minutes," he explained.

The unprecedented high was part of a heat wave that's been punishing northern India, according to the Indian Meteorological Department, a division of the national governments's Ministry of Earth Sciences. The department issued a warning of brutally more hot temperatures over the next five days. While there's typically a stretch of several weeks in the spring when temperatures exceed 100 degrees in the run-up to the monsoon season, this year is much more brutal.

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It got so hot it even hindered the city's extensive solar power-generating system. The latter, which has a capacity of 700 megawatts, reportedly generated 3 to 5 percent less electricity than usual. That's because solar power is produced by the contrast between low-energy electrons in solar panels and the sun's higher energy. When panels get too hot, it lessens the contrast, according to an FAQ by scientists at the University of California-Santa Barbara.

The New York Times reported that the heat wave has exacerbated the punishing effects of a drought, caused by inadequate rainfall from last year's monsoon season. That's led to lower crop yields and thirsty farm animals.

Boys cool off under a water fountain on a hot summer evening in New Delhi on April 25, 2016.

The winners are in from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's "Weather in Focus" photo contest, picked from more than 2,000 entries taken between Jan. 1, 2014 and March 31, 2015. "From rainbows and sunsets to lightning and tornadoes, the winning photos aren’t just captivating to look at, but inspire us to look at the world in different ways," said Douglas Hilderbrand, NOAA's contest judge and Weather-Ready Nation Ambassador Lead. "It was difficult to pick winners from so many good entries." In first place, from the category "Science in Action," is "Green Bank Telescope in WV" by Mike Zorger, Falls Church, Va.

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All 16 winning images will be displayed in a

Gateway to NOAA

exhibit located on the NOAA campus in Silver Spring, Md., starting in July. Second place in "Science in Action" went to "Photographer captures the aurora" by Christopher Morse, Fairbanks, Alaska.

In third place: "Atmospheric Research Observatory" by Joseph Phillips, Boulder, Colo.

Photo: NASA's Extreme Weather Photo Contest

And honorable mention also went to Joseph Phillips, Boulder, Colo. for "Atmospheric Research Observatory."

In the category "Weather, Water & Climate," first place went to "Snow Express" by Conrad Stenftenagel, Saint Anthony, Ind.

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In second place was "Proton arc over Lake Superior" by Ken William, Clio, Mich.

"With a Bang" by Bob Larson, Prescott, Ariz., won third place in the "Weather, Water & Climate" category.

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Honorable mention went to Alana Peterson, Maple Lake, Minn. for "Raindrops on a Leaf."

A second honorable mention was won for "Fire in the Sky over Glacier National Park" by Sashikanth Chintla, North Brunswick, N.J.

Sunsets and Other Sky Wonders

In the category "In the Moment," first place went to "Smoky Mountains" by Elijah Burris, Canton, N.C.

Second place went to "Spring Captured: Freezing rain attempts to halt spring" by Mike Shelby, Elkridge, Md.

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And third place went to "Rolling clouds in Lake Tahoe" by Christopher LeBoa, San Leandro, Calif.

Of course the professionals had their own category. First place was won by Brad Goddard, Orion, Ill., for "Stars behind the storm."

Awesome Images Make You Feel Amazing

Brad Goddard pretty much cleaned up this category, winning second (and third) place with "A tornado churns up dust in sunset light near Traer, IA."

Third place went for "A tornado crosses the path, Reinbeck, IA" by Brad Goddard.

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“Fog rolls in from the ocean on a hot summer day, Belbar, N.J.” by Robert Raia, Toms River, N.J., won honorable mention in the pro category.

To see all of the images on NOAA's website, go here.