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Extreme heat scorches Asia, affecting at least a third of the world’s population

Extreme heat scorches Asia, affecting at least a third of the world’s population


Heat records have fallen across the continent this month.

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People gather to attend an award ceremony on the outskirts of Mumbai, India. 
On April 16th, 2023, people gather to attend an award ceremony on the outskirts of Mumbai, India. Heatstroke killed more than a dozen people as early summer temperatures soared.
Photo by AFP via Getty Images

Record-shattering heat is cooking much of Asia. Brutal temperatures have been recorded across more than 12 countries in the past couple weeks. That includes oppressive heatwaves in India and China, which together represent a third of the world’s population.

It’s a “monster” heat spell “like none before,” climatologist and weather historian Maximiliano Herrera tweeted today after describing it as the “worst” April heatwave in Asia’s history last week.

A “monster” heat spell “like none before”

Thailand beat its national heat record over the weekend, with a temperature of 45.4 degrees Celsius (113.72 degrees Fahrenheit) recorded in the province of Tak. Neighboring Laos also likely hit its “highest reliable temperature in its history” yesterday, according to Herrera. (Temperature readings typically need to be verified after the fact to ensure that instruments were working properly.)

Hundreds of weather stations across China have recently broken their April heat records, The Washington Post reports. Temperatures have also climbed above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in India this month. More than a dozen people died from heat stroke in Navi Mumbai at an outdoor ceremony honoring a community leader from Maharashtra.

This heat spell is especially intense because of its length and spread across much of the continent. But extreme weather events have hit again and again in recent years. India, Pakistan, and other parts of South Asia also suffered through an epic heatwave last year, which was made 30 times more likely by climate change. Across the world, prolonged, extreme heatwaves are forecast to become more common with climate change.

China just came out of the most severe heatwave on its books last year. That shuttered factories and sent people packing to caves to try to cool down. The heat spell lasted more than 70 days and stretched across almost 530,000 square miles (about 1,372,694 square kilometers). “There is nothing in world climatic history which is even minimally comparable to what is happening in China,” Herrera told New Scientist in August 2022.

And yet there’s plenty of time left this year to beat even more records. The summer season hasn’t even started yet in China. In South and Southeast Asia, the hottest period of the year typically starts in April and extends into May.