Shanghai in China has reported a record high May temperature of 36.7C, breaking the previous record by 1C. The new high temperature on 29 May comes amid the heatwave affecting southern and eastern Asia since mid-April. Vast swathes of the region have had temperatures exceeding 40C, with parts of Pakistan reaching almost 50C in mid-May.
South-east Asia has been affected particularly badly, with record high national temperatures in Laos (43.5C), Vietnam (44.2C), and Thailand (45.4C). This is due to low amounts of rainfall over the previous winter resulting in drier soils, which can heat up more quickly than moist soils, thus exacerbating the effect.
The heatwave is estimated to have affected a third of the world’s population, and has led to at least 17 deaths and 60 hospitalisations from heatstroke. Many local authorities have taken measures such as closing schools and offices early and imposing restrictions on outdoor activities, while farmers and other outdoor labourers have reported being unable to continue working past mid-morning. Last week, the first cheetah cubs to be born in India for more than 70 years succumbed to the heat.
As people turn to fans and air conditioning, the demand for electricity has led to power outages. The Indian state of Uttar Pradesh has been hit by frequent power cuts in recent weeks, with blackouts of up to 12 hours leading to protests outside power stations. Meanwhile, Vietnam implemented rolling blackouts of up to seven hours to cope with demand, with the city of Hanoi reducing the amount of public street lighting.
The heatwave will continue into June, with parts of western China looking most likely to see new temperature records in the coming days.
Meanwhile, as Antarctica moves towards winter, sea ice is rapidly expanding but remains well below the long-term 1981-2010 average. The current extent is about 1.8m sq km below normal, a record low for this time of year.
Scientists are closely monitoring the progress of ice formation, keen to determine whether this anomaly is down to natural variability or a longer term change as a result of human-induced climate breakdown. Sea ice influences the global climate through maintaining the Earth’s energy balance and plays an important role in protecting and stabilising Antarctica’s ice shelves, as well as being important for marine biodiversity.
• The headline and text of this article were amended on 2 June 2023 to clarify that 36.7C is a record high temperature for May, not overall as an earlier version implied.