Heat records fall as at­ten­tion rises

High of 129.2 de­grees Fahren­heit in Pak­istan raises aware­ness of cli­mate change

Santa Fe New Mexican - - THE WEATHER - By Sal­man Ma­sood and Mike Ives

IS­LAM­ABAD, Pak­istan — Res­i­dents of Tur­bat, a re­mote town in south­west­ern Pak­istan, have had to cope with pun­ish­ingly hot weather for gen­er­a­tions. But when the mercury climbed to 129.2 de­grees Fahren­heit on May 28 — po­ten­tially the hottest tem­per­a­ture ever recorded in Asia — re­lief proved elu­sive, partly be­cause Tur­bat suf­fers from reg­u­lar elec­tric­ity short­ages.

Re­frig­er­a­tors stopped work­ing dur­ing that May scorcher.

“It got so hot that peo­ple here said that there is no dif­fer­ence be­tween Tur­bat and hell,” Noroz Bin Shabir, a stu­dent from the town, said by tele­phone. “It was like a fire was burn­ing out­side.”

The tem­per­a­ture in Tur­bat prompted dis­cus­sions on so­cial me­dia and among weather ex­perts about whether an Asian record had re­ally been reached.

Had me­te­o­rol­o­gists in Pak­istan rounded up the read­ing by 0.5 de­gree Cel­sius (0.9 de­gree Fahren­heit), some ob­servers asked, to an Asian record of 54 de­grees Cel­sius, and would that ad­just­ment pre­vent his­tory from be­ing made?

Ran­dall S. Cer­veny, the rap­por­teur on weather and cli­mate ex­tremes for the World Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal Or­ga­ni­za­tion, a United Na­tions agency, said it was un­clear if any round­ing had been done. He added that the 129.2-de­gree mea­sure­ment, if con­firmed, and an iden­ti­cal one from Kuwait last sum­mer, would be the third-high­est ever recorded on the planet be­hind 134 de­grees at Fur­nace Creek, in Death Val­ley, Calif., in 1913 and 131 de­grees in Ke­bili, Tu­nisia, in 1931.

The at­ten­tion paid to the tem­per­a­ture read­ing in Pak­istan high­lights how in­ter­est in heat records is grow­ing across Asia along­side ris­ing aware­ness of cli­mate change. Sci­en­tists have doc­u­mented a rise of heat ex­tremes in many parts of the world, and they say the trend is con­sis­tent with what they ex­pect on a planet that is warm­ing be­cause of hu­man emis­sions of green­house gases.

“A record is an ab­so­lute thing, so it’s not just a lit­tle bit bet­ter or a lit­tle bit warmer or the av­er­age has in­creased by X de­grees,” said Su­sanne Becken, a pro­fes­sor at Grif­fith Univer­sity in Aus­tralia who stud­ies how peo­ple seek in­for­ma­tion about cli­mate change.

As heat records ac­cu­mu­late, “peo­ple get more and more con­vinced that cli­mate change is hap­pen­ing,” Becken said.

A blast of hot weather across re­gions of Asia has un­der­scored how ex­treme heat can se­verely dis­rupt daily life, es­pe­cially in poor coun­tries at low lat­i­tudes — a prob­lem that sci­en­tists say will worsen as the ef­fects of cli­mate change be­come more ap­par­ent.

Six­teen of the 17 hottest years ever recorded have oc­curred since 2000, sci­en­tists say, and 2016 was both the hottest since mod­ern record-keep­ing be­gan in the 19th cen­tury and the third con­sec­u­tive record-breaking year.

The heat is push­ing peo­ple to­ward the lim­its of what cli­ma­tol­o­gists call “ther­mal com­fort,” with im­pli­ca­tions for pub­lic health and food se­cu­rity.

When a record tem­per­a­ture is an­nounced, “peo­ple start ask­ing ques­tions about their life and their fu­ture,” said Omar Bad­dour, a sci­en­tist at the World Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal Or­ga­ni­za­tion in Geneva.

The ef­fects have been es­pe­cially dra­matic in In­dia, where of­fi­cials said that more than 2,400 peo­ple, mostly la­bor­ers and farmhands, died from heatre­lated ill­nesses in 2015, the year of a se­vere heat wave there. That episode, one of four in In­dia since 1998 that each killed more than 1,000 peo­ple, ranks as the fifthdead­li­est heat wave in his­tory, said Jeff Mas­ters, the me­te­o­rol­ogy di­rec­tor at the on­line weather ser­vice Weather Un­der­ground.

The In­dian gov­ern­ment cre­ated a na­tional preven­tion and man­age­ment re­sponse plan for heat waves, but ex­perts say that ex­treme heat in In­dia and be­yond still poses dis­pro­por­tion­ately high risks for the poor. A study found, for ex­am­ple, that when a deadly 2015 heat wave swept through Karachi, Pak­istan, res­i­dents with lim­ited ed­u­ca­tion and monthly in­comes of less than $196 faced a sig­nif­i­cantly higher risk of death.

Un­skilled la­bor­ers “don’t have the lux­ury of tak­ing the af­ter­noon off work, so they’ll cool off un­der a tree for a bit but keep re­turn­ing to work,” said Shra­van Jha, a team man­ager for the Agri­cul­ture Depart­ment in Bi­har, a prov­ince in In­dia’s north­east. “There is lots of poverty here, and let’s say a con­struc­tion worker takes the day off: How will he feed his kids?”

An­other re­cent hot spot for heat records is South­east Asia, where monthly mean tem­per­a­tures in April 2016 were the high­est since record­keep­ing be­gan there in the mid-20th cen­tury, a study in the sci­en­tific jour­nal Na­ture Com­mu­ni­ca­tions re­ported this month. The heat dis­rupted crop pro­duc­tion, caused a spike in en­ergy use and “im­posed so­ci­etal dis­tress,” the study said.

“Too much con­crete, fewer lakes than we used to have, and all the air-con­di­tion­ers raise the tem­per­a­ture,” said Nguyen Ngoc Huy, a cli­mate change ex­pert in Hanoi, Viet­nam, with ISET-In­ter­na­tional, a non­profit re­search group work­ing on dis­as­ter risk man­age­ment in Asia.

Tem­per­a­tures at the ex­treme end of the scale are still rare be­cause they are cre­ated by un­usual at­mo­spheric con­di­tions, Bad­dour said, but the odds that Fur­nace Creek’s record will be bro­ken are grow­ing.

“The next record will be very amaz­ing,” he said. “If it hap­pens.”

B.K. BANGASH/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE PHOTO

A fam­ily cools off in a stream May 30 dur­ing a heat wave in Is­lam­abad, Pak­istan. The tem­per­a­ture climbed to 129.2 de­grees Fahren­heit on May 28 in the south­west­ern town of Tur­bat, po­ten­tially the hottest tem­per­a­ture ever recorded in Asia.

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