May 2, 2024 - Energy & Environment

Dangerous heat wave envelops hundreds of millions in East Asia

A punishing heat wave is affecting hundreds of millions of people from India to Japan, with monthly and all-time temperature records falling repeatedly.

Why it matters: The heat, exacerbated at least in part by human-caused climate change, is proving relentless and fatal in many areas.

  • In multiple countries, extreme heat is disrupting daily life by keeping kids out of school and people out of work due to the risks of heat exposure. The impact cuts into economic growth as well.

The big picture: According to climate records tracker Maximiliano Herrera, thousands of records have fallen in recent weeks across at least half a dozen countries in Oceania and Asia. And the heat shows no signs of slowing.

By the numbers: Myanmar's national temperature record was set Monday, with a sweltering 48.2°F (118.8°F), the AP reports.

  • Cambodia and Thailand have also been unusually hot, and the extreme heat has extended to India, where numerous locations have exceeded 46°C (114.8°F) for daytime highs.
  • The India Meteorological Department issued a code red alert for excessive heat for Kolkata and nearby areas through Thursday, with temperatures climbing to 46°C (114.8°F).
  • In Japan, Tokyo had its hottest March day on record, and the country saw its hottest April overall. In addition, Japan had its warmest April night on record, with the thermometer falling to just 27.6°C (81.68°F) for an overnight minimum in Ishigaki.
  • And in China, an observing station in Yunnan Province beat the country's all-time highest temperature record for April, with a temperature of 43.4°C (110.1°F).

What they're saying: An unusually high number of heat stroke fatalities have been recorded in Thailand.

  • "Because heat-related deaths are so poorly counted, especially in the Global South, we will never know how many people are dying (to say nothing of suffering and economic losses) during this extreme heat wave in Southeast Asia," climate journalist Jeff Goodell, author of "The Heat Will Kill You First," wrote on X. "Thousands, most likely."
  • Millions of students were told to stay home Monday and Tuesday of this week, for example, the AP reports. In Manila, the temperature hit 38.8°C (101.84°F) on Saturday, breaking a longstanding record.
  • The vibrant city of 14 million also saw its hottest minimum temperature of 29.8°C (85.6°F) last week, the Washington Post reported. Hot overnight minimum temperatures are a public health threat, since they prevent the human body from getting relief after hot days.

Context: Studies on recent extreme heat events in East Asia have found that human-caused climate change drastically increased their likelihood and severity.

Stunning stat: Climate Central's "Climate Shift Index," which measures the influence of human-caused climate change on daily weather, shows the extent of the heat.

  • According to the CSI, the daily average temperature in Manila during the first 3 days of May is projected to be at least five times more likely than it would have been in a world without added amounts of greenhouse gases.

The intrigue: Other factors are also exacerbating the heat. Typically, April and May are the hottest months in Southeast Asia, but unusually warm ocean temperatures associated with El Niño have boosted air temperatures further.

What's next: The ocean heat in the western Pacific and Indian Ocean has helped to dial up the thermostat in adjacent countries for prolonged periods.

  • Barring a dramatic and rapid oceanic cooldown, a long, hot summer can be expected in this region as well as others. They may offer a preview of what's in store for other parts of the world where ocean temperatures are also sky-high, including the U.S. and Europe.
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