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Japan Breaks National Heat Record. Chinese Heat Wave Continues

By: Christopher C. Burt, 8:48 PM GMT on August 12, 2013

Japan Breaks National Heat Record. Chinese Heat Wave Continues

An all-time national heat record was set in Japan today (August 12th) when the temperature peaked at 41.0°C (105.8°F) at the Ekawasaki site in Shimanto (part of Kochi Prefecture). The previous record of 40.9°C (105.6°F) was recorded at Tajima and Kumagaya on August 16, 2007. Tokyo endured its warmest daily minimum on August 11th with a low of 30.4°C (86.7°F). This was the 2nd warmest minimum on record for Japan following a minimum of 30.8°C (87.4°F) at Itoigawa on August 22, 1990.

Location of Shimanto on the island of Honshu in Japan. Wikipedia.

How many have died as a result of the Chinese heat wave?

On Sunday, August 11th, the temperature peaked at 42.7°C (108.9°F) at Shengxian, its hottest temperature measured so far during the heat wave. At Hangzhou the temperature reached 41.1°C (106.0°F) on August 11th and 40.3°C (104.5°F) on August 12th marking the 12th day since July 24th that the city surpassed or tied its previous all-time record high of 40.3° set on August 1, 2003.

Eastern China, where about 30% of the population of the country and 5% of the global population reside (approximately 400 million people) has undergone a heat wave unprecedented in its history. No one really knows how many have died as a result of the heat wave (Chinese news sources claim ‘about two dozen’), but statistically it is almost certain that many thousands must have perished as the result of the heat over the past month.

The populous cities of China must be almost unendurable during long summer heat waves. On top of the extreme daily maximum temperatures of the past month, the minimums have also been in record-breaking territory. Health officials site that the lack of night time cooling ultimately leads to high mortality rates during heat waves. Photo from Wikicommons.

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.

It is difficult to properly estimate the number of fatalities as a result of excessive heat. In the West the estimates are mostly derived from examining mortality statistics and comparing how many anomalous deaths occurred during a heat period compared to what would normally have been observed. This was how the figures for the deaths in Europe in 2003, Russia in 2010, and the U.S. in 1995 were ascertained. Obviously, this has not (yet) been undertaken in China. The Chinese authorities are notoriously tight-lipped when it comes to mass casualty natural disasters fearing, I would surmise, that releasing statistics of such might cause unnecessary panic. Often subtle hints must be looked for in official press releases such as this statement recently released by the government-owned Xinhua news agency : Several have died of heat strokes already, including construction workers, many of whom are migrants with limited health care benefits. The mortality rate for heat strokes could be as high as 50%-70% due to lack of timely treatment.

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that it is ALWAYS hot and humid in eastern China during the summer (unlike Russia and Western Europe), so perhaps the population has learned to adapt to extreme heat.

This graphic displays of average number of deaths per year shows how heat is the deadliest weather event in the U.S., accounting for 29% of all weather-related fatalities during the period of 1995-2012. It is, therefore, inconceivable that the death toll from the current heat wave in China is only ‘a couple of dozen’. Graphic from Weather Underground based on data from NOAA.

Christopher C. Burt
Weather Historian

Extreme Weather Heat

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.