The climate of India resolves into six major climatic subtypes; their influences give rise to the desert in the west, alpine tundra and glaciers in the north, humid tropical regions supporting rain forests in the southwest, and Indian Ocean island territories that flank the Indian subcontinent. Regions have starkly different—yet tightly clustered—microclimates. The nation is largely subject to four seasons: winter (December to February), summer (March to May), a monsoon (rainy) season (June to September), and a post-monsoon period (October and November).
India’s geography and geology are climatically pivotal: the Thar Desert in the northwest and the Himalayas in the north work in tandem to effect a culturally and economically break-all monsoonal regime. As Earth’s highest and most massive mountain range, the Himalayan system bars the influx of frigid katabatic winds from the icy Tibetan Plateau and northerly Central Asia. Most of North India is thus kept warm or is only mildly chilly or cold during winter; the same thermal dam keeps most regions in India hot in summer.
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Though the Tropic of Cancer — the boundary between the tropics and subtropics — passes through the middle of India, the bulk of the country can be regarded as climatically tropical. As in much of the tropics, monsoonal and other weather patterns in India can be wildly unstable: epochal droughts, floods, cyclones, and other natural disasters are sporadic but have displaced or ended millions of human lives. There is widespread scientific consensus that South Asia is likely to see such climatic events, along with their aleatory unpredictability, to change in frequency and are likely to increase in severity. Ongoing and future vegetative changes and current sea level rises and the attendant inundation of India’s low-lying coastal areas are other impacts, current or predicted, that are attributable to global warming.
Climate-related natural disasters cause massive losses of Indian life and property. Droughts, flash floods, cyclones, avalanches, landslides brought on by torrential rains, and snowstorms pose the greatest threats. Other dangers include frequent summer dust storms, which usually track from north to south; they cause extensive property damage in North India and deposit large amounts of dust from arid regions. Hail is also common in parts of India, causing severe damage to standing crops such as rice and wheat.
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India is home to an extraordinary variety of climatic regions, ranging from tropical in the south to temperate and alpine in the Himalayan north, where elevated regions receive sustained winter snowfall. The nation’s climate is strongly influenced by the Himalayas and the Thar Desert. The Himalayas, along with the Hindu Kush mountains in Pakistan, prevent cold Central Asian katabatic winds from blowing in, keeping the bulk of the Indian subcontinent warmer than most locations at similar latitudes. Simultaneously, the Thar Desert plays a role in attracting moisture-laden southwest summer monsoon winds that, between June and October, provide the majority of India’s rainfall. Four major climatic groupings predominate, into which fall seven climatic zones that, as designated by experts, are defined on the basis of such traits as temperature and precipitation.
The India Meteorological Department (IMD) designates four climatological seasons:
- Winter, occurring from December to March. The year’s coldest months are December and January, when temperatures average around 10–15 °C (50–59 °F) in the northwest; temperatures rise as one proceeds towards the equator, peaking around 20–25 °C (68–77 °F) in mainland India’s southeast.
- Summer or pre-monsoon season, lasting from April to June (April to July in north western India). In western and southern regions, the hottest month is April; for northern regions, May is the hottest month. Temperatures average around 32–40 °C (90–104 °F) in most of the interior.
- Monsoon or rainy season, lasting from July to September. The season is dominated by the humid southwest summer monsoon, which slowly sweeps across the country beginning in late May or early June. Monsoon rains begin to recede from North India at the beginning of October. South India typically receives more rainfall.
- Post-monsoon or autumn season, lasting from October to November. In north western India, October and November are usually cloudless. Tamil Nadu receives most of its annual precipitation from the northeast monsoon season.
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