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Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Heat wave breaks all records in Japan

Por Nina

Thermometers in a city north of Tokyo reached 41.1 degrees Celsius on Monday, the highest temperature ever recorded in Japan, in the midst of a deadly heat wave that spreads across much of the country and neighboring North Korea and South Korea. The record was registered in Kumagaya, a city in Saitama prefecture that is about 65 kilometers (40 miles) northwest of Tokyo, said the Japanese Metrological Agency.

The previous mark _ 41.0 C _ was in Ekawasaki, on the island of Shikoku, on August 12, 2013. Two persistent high pressure systems retained the hot, humid air over the region, achieving high temperatures for almost two weeks. The extensive heat wave in Japan, already considered a natural disaster, has caused at least 80 deaths and more than 22,000 people have been treated in hospitals in just over two weeks, according to figures released by the Fire Management Agency and Disasters.

Japan is experiencing the highest temperatures recorded in the history of the country in a hot summer and the Meteorological Agency warned that the heat wave could be prolonged until the beginning of August, so it recommended the population take precautions. "This heat wave is fatal and we consider it a natural disaster," Motoaki Takekawa, an official with the Japan Meteorological Agency, told a news conference Monday night. "We are registering unprecedented heats in several regions," he said.

The extreme heat in the country reached 41.1 degrees Celsius in the shade in Kumagaya, in the prefecture of Saitama, causing the death of 13 people and hundreds of people came to hospitals with symptoms of heat stroke. According to official figures, a total of 22,647 people were treated in different hospitals in the country, half of them with ages over 65 years. Only in the prefecture of Tokyo, the most populated in Japan, thousand 979 people were treated last week because of the heat wave that affects the archipelago.

The authorities forecast high extreme temperatures of over 35ºC for most of the islands of Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu. The island of Hokkaido, in the north, is the only one of the four main islands of Japan that will not have the record temperatures. "The potential for heat illness is higher than usual," the agency said in a statement, asking people to "take appropriate measures," including drinking plenty of water, staying away from direct sunlight and using air conditioning.

According to AccuWeather analyst Joel N. Myers, the deaths toll "apparently already adds up to hundreds even though the official count says it's more than two dozen," and could rise even higher. "The elderly and those with pre-existing conditions, such as people with asthma and heart disease, are the most likely to face health problems due to the exacerbation of their conditions due to the weather," Myers said in a statement. "Heat exhaustion and cardiovascular accidents, migraine, loss of sleep and altered mood can occur due to dangerous heat. Historical records show that more people are likely to be involved in traffic accidents due to heat-related impacts, such as decreased concentration, poor quality sleep and mood deterioration, etc.", says the statement.

According to Myers, in parts of Japan where they do not usually experience high temperatures, air conditioning is less prevalent; this means that people do not have cool locations to look for a break from the heat. A government survey published last year found that only 42% of primary and secondary schools had air conditioning, and most apartment buildings do not have centralized climate control systems.

The cultural sensitivity to waste has fueled a general apathy for air conditioning over the years, which has been exacerbated by environmental concerns and a government-led campaign called "Cool Biz" that urged companies to install thermostats at 28ºC to avoid wasting energy. The power outages triggered by the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011 also led to reducing or limiting the use of air conditioners. "It is often said that keeping the air conditioning turned on at night was not good for our health, but we do it all year," said Kenichiro Maeda, a worker at a factory in Tokyo. Noting the increase in temperatures around the world, he said that "we have to do something, but we feel powerless".

Last month was the fifth hottest June in record-keeping history, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOOA). The hottest 10 Junes in history have occurred since 2005, and the hottest of all was in 2016. Worldwide, the average temperature of the land and ocean surface during the first three months of 2018 was the sixth highest for that period since the world records began in 1880. The majority of the northern hemisphere has experienced a scorching summer characterized by heat waves and extreme weather.

Asia has been particularly hit by this heat wave. At least 21 people died as a result of flooding this month and more than 190,000 people were relocated to and around Shanghai where tropical storm Ampil is hitting the east coast of China. Hundreds of thousands of people have also been evacuated in the Philippines, with monsoon rains exacerbated by multiple storms, causing floods and other hazards. Japan's heat wave comes after the country experienced some of the worst flooding in recent years when a unique set of weather conditions caused a lot of rain hitting an area not prepared for it.