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900 Million People in China Affected by Heat, Power Cuts as Sweltering Temperatures Break 111 Degrees

A native of New York, Alina has a Bachelors degree in Corporate Communications from Baruch College and writes about human rights' related issues, politics, tech and society.
Published: July 14, 2022
A swimmer dives off a walkway into a popular swimming area on a hot summer day on July 7, 2022 in Beijing, China. Parts of northern China are enduring some of the worst heat waves in decades with temperatures reaching over 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in parts of the country. (Image: by Kevin Frayer via Getty Images)

Scorching heat waves continue sweeping through vast parts of China, with a record-breaking 44 degrees Celsius (111 degrees Fahrenheit) affecting more than 900 million people across densely populated cities and provinces. 

According to China’s International Climate Center, as of July 12, the searing temperatures have now lasted for over a month — covering an area more than half the size of the country across 85 cities and 18 provinces.

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State media reports also said that in Chongqing — the southwestern Chinese megalopolis of 30 million people —  roof and ground temperatures had reached an alarming 50 to 60° C (122° F – 132° F). 

(Video: via China Forecast/YouTube)

Local authorities revealed that the heatwaves in Chongqing were so extreme that they caused the collapse of a building located in the Chongqing Commemoration Hall of Forbidden City Relics Removed to the South (重慶故宮文物南遷紀念館). The museum was closed for maintenance following the collapse. 

On June 24, the surface temperature in Jiyuan, Henan Province reached a high point of 74.1° C (165° F) at 1 p.m. local time — breaking the highest ever recorded temperature since modern record keeping began in 1942. 

No break in sight

To make matters worse, China’s Central Meteorological Observatory has warned that the high temperatures are expected to remain for several months, and will only worsen as we enter “severe heatwave months,” which typically last from mid-July to late August or early September. 

The agency has issued an orange “high temperature” alert for most of China’s densely populated southern regions in the past few days, and warned residents to try and stay cool for the next few weeks as temperatures continue to climb. 

According to data from the country’s National Climate Center — which monitors and compiles information from meteorological stations across the country — the scorching temperatures have lasted for over 32 days so far, and are the highest recorded in regional Chinese history. 

Over 71 stations, from northern China’s Hebei Province to the Southwestern province of Yunnan have logged temperatures exceeding 44°C (111°F.)

In addition, parts of Central and southern Anhui, central and southern Jiangsu, Shanghai, Hubei some areas of central and northern Hunan, Jiangxi, Zhejiang, Fujian, eastern Sichuan, Chongqing, northeastern Guizhou, and other regions have all recorded local temperatures exceeding 39°C (102.2°F).

Life threatening conditions

In particular, the eastern coastal province of Zhejiang has seen several casualties resulting from the unrelenting heat waves in the past week. On July 11, authorities there issued 54 “high-temperature red warnings” in a single day — breaking the record for the highest number of emergency alerts issued in a 24-hour period. 

Multiple people in Zhejiang have been hospitalized with life-threatening heat stroke symptoms, and some reportedly passed away after being admitted — though the exact number of fatalities is currently unknown. 

Across the country, a woman in her 70s was admitted with severe heat-stroke symptoms in Shanghai after falling asleep in her home where temperatures had reached over 42.5° C (108° F). In Jiangsu, a 48-year-old workshop worker was brought into the hospital by a coworker after suddenly collapsing. By the time he was admitted, doctors said his internal body temperature had reached 40.7° C — causing him to go into shock as his internal organs began to shut down. 

In Nanjing, a 37-year-old decoration worker was also admitted after complaining of nausea and dizziness, and was diagnosed with severe heat stroke. 

Authorities have warned residents to check for symptoms of heat stroke and go to a hospital if they experience the following: nausea, feeling disoriented or confused, not sweating despite feeling hot, and loss of consciousness. If left untreated, heat stroke can quickly attack the central nervous system and lead to multiple organ failure or cause long-term cardiovascular as well as liver or kidney problems. 

Power shortages ensue 

Afflicted by the searing temperatures, at least seven provincial power grids in Hebei, Shandong, Henan, Shaanxi, Gansu, Ningxia, Xinjiang have reached their maximum electrical output as of June 13, and authorities have warned that power outages may soon take place. 

China’s State Power Grid disclosed on June 20 that for several weeks, the largest electricity load in the company’s operating area had reached an all-time high of 844 million kilowatts. The affected areas include Henan, Hebei, Gansu, Ningxia, Tianjin, Shandong, Jiangsu, and other regions. 

On July 11, The Zhejiang Provincial Energy Bureau announced that certain “high-energy-consuming” companies and factories would have their electricity rationed in an effort to prevent future power outages.

The notice said that the power curtailment or “rotational maintenance of high-energy-consuming enterprises,” would see certain factories receive notices in the coming weeks. A few textile and polyester manufacturers in Hangzhou, Shaoxing, and Haining reported having already received notices of the curbs, though details of when the power restrictions would begin were not revealed. 

Reeling from an ongoing coal shortage that triggered massive power cuts last year, China’s industrial output has fallen by over 25 percent from January to May of this year, according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics.

Ye Chun, deputy director of China’s Electricity Council, said that since August 2021, the country’s coal-powered sector had incurred massive losses — with some enterprises reporting losses of up to 100 percent.