Mercury hits record high of 39.6 in Seoul
The temperature in the city peaked at 39.6 degrees Celsius (103.3 degrees Fahrenheit) at 3:36 p.m. Wednesday, according to the Korea Meteorological Administration (KMA). It broke the record from the summer of 1994, when the mercury hit 38.4 degrees Celsius.
The temperature in Seoul Wednesday set the record for the highest temperature in the city since the KMA started to keep record of temperatures from 1907.
Wednesday was also the day Korea’s highest temperature ever was recorded: The temperature in Hongcheon, Gangwon, hit 41 degrees Celsius, breaking the record of highest temperature recorded in Korea, which was 40 degrees Celsius in Daegu in 1942.
Heat wave advisories and warnings have been issued throughout the country from July 11. A heat wave advisory is issued when temperatures are expected to exceed 33 degrees Celsius for two or more days. A heat wave warning is issued when the high is expected to be over 35 degrees Celsius for more than two days.
On Wednesday, the temperature hit 39 degrees Celsius in the Gangwon city of Chuncheon, 38 degrees in Daejeon and Gwangju and 37 degrees in Daegu. From the end of May to July 29, 2,015 people got sick from the heat and an additional 27 died from heat-related illnesses, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC). Some 894 got sick and 13 died within the last week of July.
To prevent further heat-related illnesses and deaths, Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon issued a directive on Wednesday to various ministries including the Ministry of the Interior and Safety, Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, Ministry of Employment and Labor, Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries to stop all outdoor work during the day.
“All construction and outdoor work issued by the central and local governments and public organizations should cease during the day in times of intense heat waves,” Lee said in a statement issued at the Prime Minister’s Secretariat on Wednesday. “The work can resume when the day cools off, but it can also be delayed for days.”
The prime minister requested the ministries to inform and recommend private companies and individual farmers and fishermen “to cease work during the afternoon hours when the heat is strong.” The Ministry of the Interior and Safety sent out a national warning text message at around 3:11 p.m. warning people to “refrain from outdoor activities including farming and construction work and stay hydrated.”
The ministry sends warning messages with loud siren sounds via cell phones for heat wave warnings. It does not send out a warning text message for heat wave advisories.
Unrelenting heat waves are also affecting fish and livestock and ruining crops throughout the country.
The temperature in the waters off the southern coast of Korea rose to some 25.2 degrees Celsius on Wednesday. Fish begin to perish when the temperatures near 27 degrees Celsius.
“At this rate, all my fish are going to die out in two to three days,” a man surnamed Han who runs a fishery in Tongyeong, South Gyeongsang, told the JoongAng Ilbo. “All my hard work for the past year is about to evaporate into thin air.”
The temperature hit 40.5 degrees Celsius in Gyeongsan, North Gyeongsang, and 40.4 degrees Celsius in Yeongcheon, North Gyeongsang, on July 24, breaking the record high of 40 degrees Celsius in Daegu in 1942. In North Gyeongsang over the past two months, 203 people got sick from the heat, and an additional seven died, according to the KCDC.
Some 350,920 chickens, ducks and pigs perished in recent heat waves in the province, according to the provincial government.
As much as 7,424 hectares of farmland in Gangwon were affected by the heat waves, according to the Gangwon provincial government on Tuesday. Beans, corns, peppers and cabbages are stunted due to the extreme heat, with some of the crops even appearing burned.
As a response, the central government is looking into including heat waves as government-acknowledged natural disasters, which would increase government compensation for livestock deaths and heat-related illnesses.
“For farmers and fishermen victimized by the heat wave, ensure that insurance and government support for them is not delayed,” Prime Minister Lee said in a cabinet meeting on Tuesday.
“The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy is looking into helping farmers pay for their increased electricity bills in times of heat waves.”
Lee said the central government is also looking into measures to lower electricity bills in times of heat waves.
“When heat waves are sustained, people have to rely on air conditioning longer, and that increases the burden of paying electricity bills,” Lee said. “Ministries must look into policies to temporarily relieve this burden.”
Bills to amend the electricity billing system for household have been submitted at the National Assembly recently.
The government in 2016 amended the household electricity billing system and lowered the average bill by 11.6 percent - and cut bills in half for some heavy users.
Before the amendment, Korean households paid 60.7 won ($0.05) per kilowatt of electricity for the first 100 kilowatts in a month.
The price went up to 125.9 won for the next 100 kilowatts per month and as high as 709.5 won per kilowatt - or 1,110.7 percent more than the starting price - in the highest range.
Under the new system, households pay 93.3 won per kilowatt for the first 200 kilowatts in a month. The price goes up to 187.9 won for the next 200 kilowatts per month and to 280.6 won per kilowatt for usage over 401 kilowatts a month, or 300 percent more than the starting price.
The amendment lowered bills, but some people are complaining that the system still penalizes households who use air conditioning, which puts them into the higher brackets.
Dozens of petitions have been submitted to the Blue House recently, asking for a lower rate for household electricity bills.
“We amended the progressive pricing system in 2016, which lowered bills overall, but it seems that people still have issues with the system,” said Park Sung-taek, head of the energy and industry policy department of the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy at a press conference at the ministry’s headquarters in Sejong on Monday.
BY ESTHER CHUNG, PARK TAE-HEE and KANG CHAN-SU [firstname.lastname@example.org]