Bengaluru, home of the famed “salubrious climate” that pushed its development, has morphed into an unpredictable weather bubble today. We Bengalureans have all become passionate citizen weather monitors
The famous “Bengaluru weather” – there’s no escaping that topic when talking of this city of mine. Like with the British, opening conversations in Bengaluru are almost always about the weather, if not about its traffic. But trust me, it always circles back to the weather, even when it digresses to the bad road conditions and potholes. It’s not just a part of polite conversation, it’s almost compulsory to do charche on it.
Most often, in these conversations, settlers in the city from outside Bengaluru will gush over the “perfect Bengaluru weather”, of the “pleasant weather” right through the year, and how they love it here. On the other hand, we Bengalureans will get all nostalgic about how beautiful the weather once was, and grumble and “tch tch” about how unfortunately it’s all changed for the worse now, and how unbearable the city is becoming. Anyone from the ooru will have gone through the grind of this conversation, right?
Once, when I was walking on Church Street one December all wrapped in my shawl, a family from up North of the country passed by, laughed at me, and asked me why I wasn’t enjoying the pleasant weather? I had to tell them we old-time Bengalureans are like this only.
But the weather is not such a casual thing, after all, when you look at it from the point of socio-economic development and the transformation of Bendakalooru, to Bangalore, and again into cosmopolitan Bengaluru. Old Bangalore had earned the crown of “Garden City” for good reason – with its ecosystem of lakes, trees, and gardens taking shape under the administration of the city’s founding father, Nadaprabhu Kempe Gowda I, later Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan, followed by the British. It was this very tree-scape of the city that largely contributed to the making of the “Naturally Air Conditioned City” of India. The climate is believed to be a key factor in the British settling in Bangalore, establishing the Cantonment. The weather is one of the big factors that created the booming Bangalore economy centred around the IT industry. The weather is one of the major factor that has brought people from all over India to come settle in Bengaluru. It’s not just attracted fellow Indians from other parts of the country, but also gets a thumbs up and preference from expats choosing to work in India.
Nothing stands in isolation, and so also Bengaluru’s weather or larger climate patterns.
Bengaluru is now developing its own micro climate. It’s rather erratic and moody, throwing up many surprises of late. The earlier reassured predictability of change in seasons and weather is gone. Global warming and climate change are surely impacting the weather patterns of the city.
Bengaluru was always known for its “moderate climate”, standing coolly at a 920-metre elevation. But in the past few decades, erratic urbanization driven by a booming economy, the shrinking and pollution of lakes, the hotting-up of the city, creation of urban “heat islands”, groundwater depletion, urban flooding – several environmental factors have played a role and/or are consequences.
Cold misty morning at Ulsoor Lake
Large parts of Bengaluru’s IT hub, the core of all the rapid development, felt the sting of the consequences of unscrupulous urbanization, lack of planning by civic authorities, clubbed with the effects of climate change, in August and September 2022. Life was thrown out of gear when torrential rains played havoc, submerging roads and inundating posh apartment complexes and bungalows in gated communities. Stranded home owners had to be rescued in coracles, motorized boats, and tractors, when water from six overflowing lakes in eastern and south-eastern Bengaluru submerged real estate along stormwater drains – the network that links Bengaluru’s numerous lakes. Outer Ring Road and the Mysore Expressway become emblematic of what Bengaluru shouldn’t have become.
El Nino and La Nina have definitely affected the Indian Monsoons as we saw these past few years in Bengaluru’s rain patterns. If 2023 has been a largely drought-like year, the past three years the Monsoon has dragged on for months. In fact the heavy rains put off local Bengalureans so much that there was a phase we would refuse to indulge in social activities, dreading rains. It went to the point of developing pluviophobia or a fear of rains, probably due to the consequent devastating flooding.
Bengaluru has always been one of the first victims of any cyclonic activity in the Bay of Bengal. The age-old adage “When it rains in Chennai, Bangalore sneezes” transliterated from the Kannada, indicates how cyclonic weather conditions in Chennai always affects us in Bengaluru.
These incidents once again sparked the narrative of what Bengaluru has become, as against what it was. Today’s Bengaluru is characterized by extreme swings of weather in a day, bundling many seasons into one day – chilly cold early mornings, dry hot days or humid afternoons, cloudy evenings, rain-drenched nights. One part of the city may have floods overnight while another doesn’t even see a drop of rain. With the weather fluctuations in a day, come complaints of fevers and colds, now famously dismissed off as the “Bengaluru Viral”.
Gathering Storm Clouds
The narratives of weather and development in Bengaluru have become inevitably intertwined. In fact, USA-based anthropologist Camille Frazier has studied if the Bengalureans’ obsession with weather, among other things, is a discourse of just nostalgia or that combined with a criticism of the city’s development by old-time residents. Here is an excerpt, of the summary of her study “Urban Heat: Rising Temperatures as Critique in India’s Air‐Conditioned City” – “The ‘rising temperatures narrative’ has become a common form of lament among native and long‐term middle‐class residents of Bengaluru (Bangalore). This narrative links hotter temperatures with the past three decades of rapid urbanization to critique uncontrolled urban growth and associated changes in the urban ecology…In its nostalgic descriptions of the city that came before, the rising temperatures narrative draws a line of distinction between ‘old’ and ‘new’ middle‐class residents of Bengaluru.”
This year, 2023 is turning out to be a landmark year in the history of Bengaluru weather – first Bengaluru recorded a minimum temperature of 13 degrees Celsius in January 2023, thereby making it the city’s coldest morning in the last four years, according to the India Meteorological Department (IMD). (According to IMD historical data, the lowest minimum temperature EVER recorded in Bengaluru was 7.8 degrees Celsius on January 13, 1884.) Then we had the wettest May since 1957, with 31 cms of rainfall! We also had a noisy and sizeable hailstorm this May. We then did a complete turnaround and had the driest August in the climatological history of the city – 12 mm instead of the average of 163 mm for the month. October, which is usually a rainy month, witnessed one of the lowest rainfall levels in recent years, with a 48 per cent deficit. Despite all the negatives, we boast a fairly decent Air Quality Index or AQI (an indicator of air pollution). In November 2023, Bangalore was at a “good” 41 while New Delhi was at an atrocious 10 times worse air quality – 436!
The weather has grown from being just a casual element in conversations to a serious obsession for many in the city. From being “kattey maatu” or evening banter among old men gathered at a social square in the locality, the weather narrative has blown up into something huge, thanks to social media. The handle @BngWeather on the platform X (formerly Twitter) has more than 30,000 followers. It’s a “group of weather crazy enthusiasts” who give regular and reliable weather updates and forecasts. There is a growing breed of young private weather trackers who analyse weather data and offer predictions, apart from the governmental organization IMD – Indian Meteorological Department. Social media platforms are where most of the weather angst and joy are displayed – be it warnings, or rain-induced food cravings and pictures of bajji-bonda/tea-coffee in the rains, pictures of rainbows or menacing cloudy skies. There are as many memes dedicated to Bengaluru’s weather as there are to a Bengalureans’ weather obsession.
Not a day passes in the life of a Bengalurean, when we don’t comment on the weather, I think. Whatever happens, we true-blue Bengalureans will promptly bring out our woolens and ear warmers, when the nip in the air just sets in. We will complain about the heat, but will diligently plan to wash bedsheets and razhais and sun-roast them with our happalas and sandiges on our terraces. Because, “nodi swami naavu irodu heege”.
Sheltering from the summer heat
Main Image: Flooded streets of Bengaluru.
The recent brouhaha about AI has taken up a lot of space and time in our everyday life. One aspect of this furore has been the use of AI in creating art. A photographer who won a prestigious award refused it, revealing later that it was not an actual photograph but created with AI. The title image for this feature was generated by Microsoft DALL·E 3 AI, which uses an advanced AI model from OpenAI to generate high-quality, accurate images based on text.
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- With 31cm rainfall, Bengaluru saw its wettest May since 1957
- Frazier, Camille. (2019). Urban Heat: Rising Temperatures as Critique in India’s Air‐Conditioned City. City & Society. 31. 10.1111/ciso.12228.
- At 13 degree Celsius, Bengaluru records lowest minimum temperature in four years
- 90% rain deficit, Bengaluru sees driest-ever August
- Bengaluru’s climate change history and lessons to learn
- Rain brings Bengaluru’s IT corridor to a standstill
- Karnataka dries up, November brings hope