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As Heatwave Grips Northeast Asia, 'A Major Catastrophe' Underway

Weather historian: 'I cannot think of any other heat event that has affected so many people for so long'

Andrea Germanos

A heat wave continues to blanket parts of northeast Asia, bringing heat-related deaths and record temperatures to the region.

Japan marked its hottest day ever on Monday when Shimanto City hit 41 degrees Celsius (nearly 106 degrees Fahrenheit), and heat warnings were issued for 38 of the country’s 47 prefectures.

CNN reports that "of the 52 deaths from heatstroke nationwide between late May and early August, nearly one third of them occurred last week." 

As South Korea swelters under a heat wave, the government has ordered the air conditioning be turned off in public institutions and reduced subway service in the nation's capital to avert blackouts.

"I cannot think of any other heat event that has affected so many people for so long."

-Weather historian Christopher C. Burt
“We are in a critical situation where, if any single power generator goes wrong, we will have to resort to rolling blackouts just like we did in 2011," Yoon Sang Jick, South Korea’s minister of trade, industry and energy, said on Sunday.

The AC shutoff order "came two days after the city of Gimhae clocked a temperature of 39.2 degrees Celsius (102.6 degrees Fahrenheit), the highest in South Korea in more than a decade," CNN adds.

In Shanghai, which just had its hottest July in 140 years, it's been so hot that residents have actually been able to fry meat on the pavement, and the city is breaking heat record after heat record.

Over 40 cities and counties across China have been baking under temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Weather historian Christopher C. Burt surmises that "a major catastrophe must be taking place" in China:

Virtually every possible heat statistic has been broken for most sites in eastern China (as well as central and southern Japan, and South Korea). I cannot think of any other heat event that has affected so many people for so long (including those that plagued the U.S. in the mid 1930s, Russia in 2010, and Western Europe in August 2003). Obviously, the Chinese authorities are keeping the fatalities from this ongoing event under wraps. The European heat wave of 2003 killed over 72,000 people, the Russian heat wave of 2010 killed over 55,000, and in the U.S historical record, we know that many thousands also succumbed to the heat waves of the mid-1930s and in 1995 in the Midwest. The dense population of cities like Shanghai, Hangzhou, Ningbo, and Changsha (these three metropolitan areas accounting for 50 million people) and the fact that many if not most have no air-conditioning and are also unofficial immigrants from rural areas (meaning that if they died in the heat wave, their deaths would not be reported as local urban fatalities) leads one to the conclusion that a major catastrophe must be taking place.

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