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CHONGQING, CHINA - AUGUST 22: Firefighters rest on the ground after combatting the blaze as a mountain forest fire triggered by persistent drought and heat waves is raging in Dazu district on August 22, 2022 in Chongqing, China. (Photo by VCG/VCG, Getty)

China Sets New Temperature Records as Two-Month Heatwave Continues

Rivers are drying up. Crops are dying. And humans are taking extreme measures to stay cool as heatwaves continue throughout the planet, this time in China where hundreds of locations have reported temperatures of more than 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) during a heatwave that has stretched on for nearly two months.

Just last week—18 August—Chongqing tallied the heat at 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit), setting a record for heat in China outside of the desert region of Xinjiang. Elsewhere in China, the New Scientist reports that cities have recorded their highest minimum temperatures on record in the longest and hottest heatwave in the nation since recordkeeping began in 1961.

“This combines the most extreme intensity with the most extreme length with an incredibly huge area all at the same time,” said weather historian Maximiliano Herrera, in an interview with New Scientist. “There is nothing in world climatic history which is even minimally comparable to what is happening in China.”

The effects of the heat have been widespread with some rivers drying up completely and some areas running out of drinking water, requiring it to be transported in. Hydroelectricity production is also down, and some manufacturing facilities have ceased production because electricity shortages are impacting their ability to run air conditioning in plants. 

Toyota and Contemporary Amperex Technology—the world’s largest battery maker—suspended operations in response to government demands to save energy in Sichuan, potentially further stressing an already overstretched supply chain.

“The province produces major amounts of lithium and polysilicon needed for batteries and solar panels, respectively, and numerous other manufacturers have also shut down shop during the blistering heat,” according to Protocol. “SAIC Motor (China’s largest automaker) and Tesla have also impacted operations in Shanghai, which is located far from Sichuan, because suppliers in the province have been unable to ship needed parts.”

The Global Impact

While China is in the headlines this week for its extreme heat, it’s not alone. Most regions of the world have been battling record-setting temperatures during 2022.

India. India recorded its hottest March and April, and has continued to see record-setting heat levels throughout the summer months. Heat waves are especially dangerous in India because many people work outside and also do not have cool homes to recover in. 

“As the climate warms, conditions once experienced only in saunas and deep mineshafts are rapidly becoming the open-air reality for hundreds of millions of people, who have no escape to air conditioning or cooler climes,” according to The Washington Post. “After a few hours with humid heat about 35 degrees Celsius—a measure known as the wet-bulb temperature—even healthy people with unlimited shade and water will die of heatstroke. For those carrying out physical labor, the threshold is closer to…31 degrees Celsius, or even lower.” 

Europe. While temperatures have not soared to the levels seen in China and India, Europe has also seen its own record-setting heatwaves and is in the middle of the continent’s worst drought in 500 years. A recent report from the European Drought Observatory found that 47 percent of the continent is experiencing warning conditions, “with a clear deficit of soil moisture, and 17 percent of the continent is under a state of alert, in which vegetation is impacted,” CNBC reports.

The dry heat has led to wildfires in Europe, along with collapses of glaciers and rivers running dry. European countries also recorded thousands of excess human deaths in July—potentially caused by this year’s heat waves.

Africa. Africa has also been hit by 2022’s heatwaves. In North Africa, the NASA Earth Observatory reported that Tunisia reached a record of 48 degrees Celsius (118 degrees Fahrenheit). The heatwave led to fires, which damaged the country’s grain harvest. 

And as touched on in our Today in Security coverage yesterday, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia have more than 16.2 million people affected by drought this year.

“During the past four years, some regions in southern and northern Ethiopia have been hit with high temperatures and little rain so that the resulting drought has left residents with harvest failures and vast animal deaths,” Security Management reports. 

United States. heatwaves have continued to pose major ramifications in the United States—especially the western part of the country which is experiencing the worst drought in more than 1,200 years in combination with extreme heat, potentially causing more wildfires and energy shortages. 

Earlier this year, heat domes formed over the Southwest United States which impacted nearly 38 million Americans.

Mexico. Mexico has also been feeling the heat with many days temperatures reaching 37 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit), and the prolonged heat leading to water shortages. Some cities have seen lines of people waiting to receive water rations from delivery trucks because water supply has been halted to homes.

“In northern Mexico, reservoirs that typically supply water to the regions 5 million people are low or dry,” The Washington Post reports. “Experts say a confluence of factors are to blame, including population growth, increasing demand for water, poor infrastructure, and soaring temperatures. Over the long term, climate change as a result of human activity will probably drive up the frequency and severity of such changes in weather, including heat waves and droughts.”

The New Normal

The end of August may bring some relief from the heat this year, but new research published in the journal Communications Earth & Environment suggests that “dangerous heat” in the coming decades will likely hit most of the world at least three times as often as climate change continues.

The study, published on Monday, found that temperature spikes and humidity that make it feel like 39.4 degrees Celsius (103 degrees Fahrenheit) could occur 20 to 50 times a year by 2050. The heat will be even worse for tropical zones, where the heat index could reach 51 degrees Celsius (124 degrees Fahrenheit) for one to four weeks a year by 2100.

“So that’s kind of the scary thing about this,” said study author Lucas Zeppetello, a Harvard climate scientist, in an interview with the Associated Press (AP). “That’s something where potentially billions of people are going to be exposed to extremely dangerous levels of heat very regularly. So, something that’s gone from virtually never happening before will go to something that is happening every year.”

That heat may have devastating impacts on humans, especially those who work outdoors or do not have access to air conditioning and cooling centers. Employers are already seeing this play out in the agricultural sector and the corrections sector.

For instance, research finds that the average days agricultural workers in the United States spend working in unsafe conditions—including heat—will double by the 2050 and triple by 2100. 

“There is a heightened risk for heat stroke when core temperatures rise, something we saw during the devastating heat waves in India and Pakistan this past spring,” said Michele Barry, a Stanford health expert, in an update from the university. “When heat is combined with humidity, it can create deadly temperatures beyond which the body can no longer cool itself. In terms of mental health, we’re seeing heightened suicide risk in farmers in India and the American West driven by despair around heat and drought-induced crop failures.” 

In Texas, correctional facilities are seeing the impacts of extreme heat coupled with the lack of air conditioning on people who are incarcerated and on staff. Twelve inmates and 21 employees have suffered heat-related illnesses, according to The New York Times—although the true number could be higher. 

“Beyond heat-related illnesses, there’s growing evidence about the impacts of extreme heat on accident risk and resulting traumatic injuries,” said Michelle Tigchelaar, a research scientist at the Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions. “Dangerous job tasks, such as operating heavy equipment and balancing on ladders, are getting more dangerous. The way work structure—details like incentives and breaks—interacts with heat extremes is another pressing risk. For instance, I contributed to a study detailing how pressure on postal workers to complete work within particular hours contributes to heat-related illness and death. We’re only just starting to scratch the surface on how extreme heat interacts with other climate drivers to create occupational health risks.”