Intense heat to follow paltry rains
The seasonal rain front left the country as of yesterday and a scorching heat wave will set in beginning today, the Korea Meteorological Administration said. “Scattered showers will be seen around the country until Saturday, but it will be mostly sunny through early next month and the high temperatures will stay,” it said.
The state forecaster issues a heat wave watch when the daytime temperatures around the country, particularly the inland areas, reach 33 degrees Celsius (91 Fahrenheit), and it said it expects to issue those warnings for many of the coming summer days. Korea will also see more frequent tropical nights - where nighttime temperature stay above 25 degrees - and localized downpours, it said.
“In a year with an El Nino, you usually see lower August temperatures, but this year the El Nino developed slowly,” said Jung Hyun-sook, head of the Climate Prediction Division of the Korea Meteorological Administration. He said temperatures on the Korean Peninsula will be at least average and probably higher than average in August.
“Since early August is the hottest time of the year, a heat wave is destined to come,” Jung said.
According to the Korea Meteorological Administration, summer on the peninsula has lengthened and the season has gotten hotter and wetter. The average temperature in June, July and August over the past decade was 24.2 degrees, 0.8 degrees higher than the average of the same months from 1981 to 2010.
Seoul had 111 days with an average temperature higher than 20 degrees and a daytime high temperature above 25 degrees in the 1980s, but the number grew to 119 in 2000, the weather bureau said.
The National Disaster Management Institute at the Ministry of Security and Public Administration yesterday warned of sizzling summers for the country over the next six years and the possibility of deadly disasters from heat waves, including droughts, epidemics, blackouts and food price hikes.
“The elderly are particularly vulnerable to heat waves,” said Lee Jong-seol, head of the institute’s Safety Research Division. “With the rapid aging of society, we could have about 10,000 excess deaths a year due to heat waves.”
The summer heat has already become deadly. With the hottest days still to come, 345 people have already been treated for heat-related illnesses this summer. One of the victims died, and 23 others required treatment at intensive care units.
The number of patients climbed rapidly last week; 119 people were treated from July 20 through Saturday, the center said. A 74-year-old woman was found collapsed at her farm in Miryang, South Gyeongsang, on Saturday. She was rushed to a hospital emergency room but died there, the center said.
Because of the forecast of an unusually strong heat wave next month, the disaster center advised vulnerable people, including the elderly, children, outdoor workers and people with chronic illnesses, to be alert to the condition of their health.
There are many heat-related diseases, but heatstroke and heat exhaustion are serious and require immediate treatment, doctors said. “When our body is exposed to heat for a long time, the brain’s function that controls temperature is destroyed,” said Dr. Song Kyoung-jun, professor of emergency medicine at Seoul National University Hospital. “Those with a chronic illnesses, the elderly and children, have a low ability to [regulate their internal temperature], so they must be extra careful about heat exposure.”
Higher seawater temperatures lead to outbreaks of disease spread by waterborne bacteria; on land, high temperatures lead to more tick-borne diseases, all in addition to the direct effects of heat on the human body.
BY KANG CHAN-SOO and PARK HYUN-YOUNG [firstname.lastname@example.org]