China Falls Under Suspicion of Covering Up Deaths as Ocean Heat Dome Expands to Blanket Korea and Japan

US Weather Fatalities by Type

US Weather Fatalities by Type

(Image source: NOAA)

According to recent reports from NOAA and the CDC, heat is the most lethal form of weather in the United States. Death and injury rates have been on the rise as human-forced temperature increases have expanded, surging northward into major metro areas such as New York City. The CDC report showed a growing number of heat deaths and injuries for this northern region, with the New York Metro area seeing an average of 13 deaths and over 440 heat injuries each year during the period from 2000 to 2011. Nationwide, the average number of heat fatalities surged to 117 during a period from 2003 to 2011.

Heatwaves have hit the NYC region time and time again over the past decade, driving the death and injury rate inexorably higher. However, the heat impacting that area is paltry when compared to the extreme and deadly temperatures that have broiled southeastern China since late July. For more than three weeks, the Shanghai region of China has experienced almost daily temperatures in excess of 100 degrees Fahrenheit and sweltered under very high humidity for such hot conditions. This combination has pushed wet bulb temperatures (a measure that simulates the temperature of human skin) into a range of 29 to 32 degrees Celsius, very close to the lethal human limit of 35 degrees C.

On Sunday, an extreme heat pulse sent thermometers soaring to 109 degrees Fahrenheit in the city of Shengxian — its hottest temperature ever recorded and a scorching 32.3 degree wet bulb temperature. Meanwhile, on the same day, Hangzhou had hit a new all time record high temperature of 105.8 degrees Fahrenheit, the twelfth time since July 24th that Hangzhou has tied or broken its old all time temperature record which, in some cases, was set just the day before.

High heat and humidity of this kind is deadly to humans because as temperatures approach 35 degree C wet bulb readings, it is nearly impossible for the human body to carry away the excess heat it generates through evaporation. Never has a wet bulb temperature of 35 degrees C been recorded by humans. However, climate scientists such as James Hansen have asserted that it’s just a matter of time under the current regime of human-caused warming before we hit that ominous mark.

So have thousands died?

Road Sing Burns in Shanghia Region

Road Sign Burns Under Record Heat in Shanghai Region

(Image source: Shenzhen Daily)

As reports of vehicle fires and sporadically smoldering infrastructure in the massive Chinese heatwave flared, suspicions emerged that Chinese officials are covering up what are potentially thousands of heat-related deaths.

According to Chinese news agencies, the official report is that about two dozen have died so far in Shanghai’s record-shattering heatwave. But similar heat in Europe and Russia resulted in tens of thousands of deaths over the past decade. At issue is the fact that China’s current record heat and humidity are at levels never before experienced in its weather history and that this event is even more intense than the deadly heatwaves of Europe and Russia. Add to this extraordinarily dangerous event the fact that more than 400 million people live in the region of China currently being socked by record heat and the vague reports coming out of China seem highly incongruent.

Never before has such high wet bulb temperatures hit a region of so dense a population. Yet China has only continued to report the vague ‘dozens’ estimate.  It was this discrepancy that caused WeatherUnderground Historian Christopher Burt to speculate that China may be covering up a catastrophic rash of fatalities:

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.

If Christopher Burt’s, quite rational, analysis ends up proving true, we can expect reports of fatalities to begin to slowly trickle out of China. Misreporting and under-reporting of Chinese heatwave casualties would also be yet one more instance of government officials and mainstream media downplaying and under-reporting the effects of catastrophic events related to human-caused climate change. Such under-reporting is yet one more manifestation of a dangerous and paralyzing denial that has so hampered an effective response to these increasingly dangerous and self-inflicted events.

Making such a call, however, is possibly premature as residents of this region are more acclimated to excessive heat than Europeans or Russians. As Burt notes:

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.

The Ocean Heat Dome Expands to Cover Korea and Japan

Ocean Heat Dome

Ocean Heat Dome Over China, Korea and Japan

(Image source: NASA/Lance-Modis)

A sprawling heat dome high pressure system that has scorched a region stretching from coastal China to a large expanse of the Pacific Ocean shifted eastward into Korea and Japan over the weekend. Southern Japan saw temperatures surge into the 100s with Shimanto recording the highest temperature ever measured in Japan of 105.8 degrees Fahrenheit (41 degrees Celsius). Tokyo, meanwhile, broke the record for its hottest minimum temperature at 86.7 degrees Fahrenheit (30.4 C).

South Korea, over the same period, reported 8 deaths as temperatures soared to 102.2 degrees Fahrenheit (39 C) in Busan. Temperatures in Seoul hit the still hot, but more moderate, 90s (32 C +).

Both South Korea and Japan are surrounded on multiple sides by water. This geographic feature would usually provide a cooling effect as ocean temperatures are typically many degrees cooler than land temperatures. But, in this case, a massive heat dome is baking the ocean itself to unprecedented high surface water temperatures. As a result, a large area of open ocean now shows readings above 30 degrees Celsius ( 86 Fahrenheit). This extremely hot, near 90 degree water, has formed the central pulse of the current heatwave even as it has pumped extraordinarily humid air for such hot conditions over adjacent land areas. A shift to the north of this large and still growing region of extraordinarily hot ocean water led to the record steamy conditions over Japan and Korea during the past few days — both of which can expect little relief from the now, very hot, water.

Asia in Hot Water

Ocean Heat Dome Puts Asia in Hot Water

(Image source: Weather Online)

Forecasts for Shanghai, Korea, and Japan call for slightly less sweltering temperatures in the upper 90s with more isolated readings in the 100s as clouds are expected to move in and increase chances of rainfall by later this week. A slight improvement but a welcome change, nonetheless. Meanwhile, hot ocean conditions create a risk for continued very hot temperatures for much of this coastal region.

(Hat Tip to Colorado Bob for the head’s up)

Leave a comment


  1. Dan Aldridge

     /  August 13, 2013

    Good article, but please check the grammar mistake in the headline!

  2. Reblogged this on Climate Force.

  3. Papers on 2003 heat wave in Europe
    Though it is unclear what the wet bulb temp were at these times, a significant contribution to the overall mortality can be attributed to a combination of high Ozone readings and hot temperature.

    Ozone and carbon monoxide also present strong anomalies (both ~+40 ppbv) during the heat wave, with a maximum vertical extension reaching 6 km altitude around 11 August 2003. Pollution in the planetary boundary layer (PBL) is enhanced during the day, with ozone mixing ratios two times higher than climatological values. This is due to a combination of factors, such as high temperature and radiation, stagnation of air masses and weak dry deposition, which favour the accumulation of ozone precursors and the build-up of ozone


    “In the Netherlands an excess of 1000–1400 deaths was estimated due to the hot temperatures that occurred during the 2003 summer period. We estimated the number of deaths attributable to the ozone and Particular Matter (PM10) concentrations in the summer period June–August 2003. Our calculations show that an excess of around 400–600 air pollution-related deaths may have occurred compared to an ‘average’ summer. These calculations suggest that in the Netherlands, a significant proportion of the deaths now being attributed to the hot summer weather can reasonably be expected to have been caused by air pollution.”

    • Interesting.

      Shanghai is one of the most polluted regions on Earth due to a a large number of very dirty coal plants operating in its vicinity.

      • orSomethingLikeThat

         /  January 4, 2014

        The air pollution certainly causes problems in winter, where it can get trapped over cities in a self-perpetuting inversion layer. Large fires such as those in the european heat-wave can create a similar ‘pollution trap’.

  4. Record heat wave bakes Canada’s North

    Temperatures 10 degrees above normal across Yukon, Nunavut and Northwest Territories

    • ” In some communities, like Kugluktuk, Nunavut, it’s been even more remarkable: yesterday, it set temperature records for the sixth consecutive day on Tuesday, hitting 29 degrees Celsius. “

    • Major wildfires ongoing there as well.

      • I saw a report in early June about the fires west of Hudson Bay in northern Manitoba ( When the whole North Atlantic was covered in smoke. ) , the chief fire fighter there, was amazed by the fact the fires were burning into the ground , to burn even the root systems of trees.
        This is what we’ve been seeing in Russia.

        I can’t help but thinking that this will be a part of the feed back in the oceans , feeding the blooms in the Northern Oceans.

  5. climatehawk1

     /  August 14, 2013
  6. RS –
    Wet blub temps, and human mortality , my bet is that southern Pakistan will be the first place on Earth to show this effect. That is, where tens of thousands drop dead in a weeks time. That is, the living will be over whelmed by the numbers of the dead they have to deal with.
    My other place to watch , is the Philippines , they will be creamed by the shear numbers of super typhoons coming in off the Pacific. Followed by Taiwan . 10 feet of rain in the mountains of Taiwan will be the new normal , 3 or 4 times a year.

    • I think you’ve nailed the potential danger areas. Western China, though sparsely populated, is another place to watch. Medieval literature indicates that region as a deadly area during the related warm period.

      I’m worried a bit about the hot ocean zones shifting a little further north together with the moisture streams. Could be a mess.

      • Yep , and the Typhoon season is just starting , Japan may be in very deep doo-doo. Given the SST’s we are seeing .
        The current heat dome is producing these reports farther North :
        China floods ‘worst in decades’
        Source: Reuters – Tue, 13 Aug 2013 08:01 AM

        Giant highs, with deep lows flowing around them. The question is, how high can the highs get, and how low will the lows go ?

        • Exactly. The atmosphere is gaining mass, growing more muscular. And with change in the wind, we have massive instabilities. Looking at two large retrograde lows plowing over the top of Asia at the moment.

      • “I’m worried a bit about the hot ocean zones shifting a little further north ”
        But not before , the worst typhoon ever hit’s the Southern Philippines ………..
        Over the long term I agree, but the phase we are in now , all bets are off.

        ” Typhoon Bopha (international designation: 1224, JTWC designation: 26W, PAGASA designation: Pablo) was the strongest tropical cyclone to ever hit the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, making landfall as a Category 5 super typhoon with winds of 175 mph (280 km/h).[1] Bopha originated unusually close to the equator, becoming the second-most southerly Category 5 super typhoon, reaching a minimum latitude of 7.4°N on December 3.”

  7. Yet another monster behind the door –
    Record rainfall in Northern Arkansas has produced this problem :

    Near-record rains costly for landfill
    The NABORS landfill in north Baxter County is oozing lechate at a rate of 6,500 gallons — a tanker load — daily because of near-record August rains.

    Marvin Harrison, leader of a construction and maintenance crew since the landfill stopped taking trash eight months ago, said a bulldozer is used to tow an 18-wheel tanker truck through the mud to extraction points around the landfill.

    Donna Cantrell, acting NABORS manager, told The Bulletin on Monday the landfill operating fund has declined to about $140,000.

    When the fund runs out sometime in October, the Ozark Mountain Regional Solid Waste Management District will have to look elsewhere for lechate hauling funds.

  8. uknowispeaksense

     /  August 14, 2013

    Reblogged this on uknowispeaksense.

  9. Tim Schram

     /  August 14, 2013

    “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.”

    Seems like they are reporting the number of thousands that have died. So two dozen would be 2400.

  10. By the way I found a great graphic some years ago about Monsters Behind the Door

    Thursday, September 07, 2006

  11. robertscribbler
    / August 14, 2013

    Does the burning deliver phosphates?

    Yes, as well as all the things that make a forest bloom after the burn . But these fires today , are some of the most incomplete combustion we see. When a tree root in Northern Canada burns 3 feet into the ground , that is not the usual oxidation we see in wild land fires. This has always happened , but it was one out of 100 stumps , now it’s 50 out of a hundred stumps. A lot of nasty stuff is floating over the Taiga that wasn’t there even 10 years ago.

    I can’t help but think it points to your poisoned ocean theory, about the past.

    The ground on fire, is not the same thing as a pine tree on fire . The combustion products are 2 completely different things.
    And we know zero about these 2 different things.
    I’ve never read a paper about tree roots burning 3 feet in the ground. And you, and I have been watching that for years.

    Here’s what we’ve observed in Russia :
    The fire burns the trees in hours, the stumps burn for weeks, in ever greater numbers, unless it rains. These fires in Russia are like an ashtray of cigarette butts on fire .

    • If you deliver a high volume of phosphates to the oceans, that increases the rate of anoxia. We’re already doing this through farm runoff, fires as a feedback would be a bad result. I don’t know that there’s much science on this at the moment…

      • I can’t help but think it points to your poisoned ocean theory, about the past.

        • Well, it would point toward Ward, Canfield and the scientists involved in investigating how oceans contributed to the Permian extinction. Dumping all those phosphates, from various sources, would certainly push for more of those dangerous algae blooms. So, no, I’m not liking your descriptions of these fires, their soil and root burning, or the material they belch in the least.

      • “If you deliver a high volume of phosphates to the oceans, that increases the rate of anoxia”

        Yes , and the incomplete combustion is delivering a witches brew of nasty carbon compounds.

    • It killed 56,000 Russians 3 years ago , when the heat dome came . It wasn’t just the heat , they were breathing a natural ashtray smoldering. And like a giant heat dome , the winds laid down. So the air , got thicker and thicker. I watched lands east of what we have been observing , clear as bell as far as smoke goes .

      I fear these giant heat domes will just get stuck , for decades And around them it will rain like hell

      • Glacial melt pulses will likely reassert temp differentials, moving the systems along. But that probably won’t be pretty, as Hansen notes.

      • What puzzles me this season , the deep lows over the pole, and the extreme highs over the land around it.

        • The high amplitude waves in the Jet bring the ridges further north, into the 55+ latitude zone. This is a prescription for Arctic heat domes. The extra heat creates a strong land to Arctic Ocean temperature differential that can fuel powerful storms in or near the Arctic basin.

  12. RS-
    Read this –
    The Extreme Rain Events of 2010
    This is just partial list of the extreme rain that fell in 2010 . If you know one, add it to this thread. All the reports listed here are from The National Weather Service, NOAA, and news reports.

    The Swat Valley –
    I never saw a number on just how bad the rainfall was there , until this story from the Guardian . ” It was raining so hard, you couldn’t see a man standing in front of you ” …………..

    ” In more than 60 hours of non-stop torrential rainfall, the floods washed all that away. The north-west normally receives 500mm (20in) of rain in the month of July; over one five-day period 5,000mm fell. “It was incredible,” said Sameenullah Afridi, a local United Nations official. ”

    That’s 196.8 inches of rain , 16 feet .

    • I will pop in tomorrow. Lot on my plate, though. Will pull my notes on 2010 to see if I can find any additions.

      Priority, though, is what appears to be a very intense rain event emerging for the US Southeast.

  13. RS –
    I went and looked at the MODIS . After this event, I am sure that a warm rain fell on the highest snow fields in the Hindu Kush mountains. At elevations of over 14,000 feet.

    • When it rained 16 feet in the low lands , that rain melted the snow pack at 17,000 feet.

      Warm rain at very high altitudes , has no papers either.

      • Snow eating storm clouds. Lots of heat energy in that water vapor.

      • lewiscleverdon

         /  August 14, 2013

        Bob – there’s also a quite strong probability of high altitude rains overtopping the glaciers’ melt-water lakes (of which there are now about 20,000 across the Himalayas) which would lead to catastrophic outputs, as in the recent N Indian floods where several are thought to have been breached.



    • We get that kind of event over Greenland and it’s all spades.

  14. Steve

     /  August 15, 2013

    It appears that the long intense heat wave in China is causing some unexpected problems with rationale thinking–180952559.html If you need a laugh, this is worth the read.

  15. Steve

     /  August 15, 2013

    While I did get a good laugh from that, I find it troubling how mainstream media can find stories like this out of China and post them, but virtually nothing comes out about much more serious matters. Is the Chinese government that good at blocking content getting out or is our media intentionally choosing not to bring this out? If it is the latter of the two, is it their decision or are they being censored by the US government?

  16. John S

     /  November 5, 2013 – great research on Arctic Effects on extreme weather – seems relevant

  1. Another Week of Climate Instability News, August 18, 2013 – A Few Things Ill Considered

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