Record-breaking high temperatures likely a 'new normal' for Japan, experts warn

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

This summer’s deadly heat wave has been labeled as unprecedented, but official climate forecasts and experts are warning that the recent rise in temperatures is likely to become the new normal in the years ahead.

“Generally speaking, it’s predicted that the kind of heat we have now will increase as climate change advances,” said Masako Konishi, a meteorologist and deputy director of conservation at WWF Japan. “While we can’t say the current heat wave itself is a sign of the direct effects of climate change, at the very least we can say that we’ll see more of this kind of climate in the future.

“What’s most frightening is that what we once had no experience with is gradually becoming the daily norm,” Konishi noted.

“The government and television weather personalities are working hard to warn of the dangers of the heat, with some using language that treats it like a natural disaster. In other parts of the world, such as the Middle East, these high temperatures are a natural part of life and people are used to them.”

According to government data released Tuesday, the heat wave has killed at least 65 people in 28 prefectures and sent more than 22,000 to hospitals last week — the highest figure since comparable information became available in 2008. The Fire and Disaster Management Agency has announced that over a seven-day period to Sunday, 22,647 people were taken to hospitals due to the heat, with Tokyo — the country’s most populous prefecture — accounting for the highest number at 1,979. Aichi Prefecture ranked second at 1,954, followed by Osaka Prefecture with 1,779 and Saitama Prefecture at 1,617.

The previous weekly record for people taken to hospitals over heat stroke or heat exhaustion — 12,064 — was logged in the period from July 27 to Aug. 2, 2015.

This summer’s scorching heat appears likely to continue presenting a danger to many, with the Tokyo Fire Department reporting a preliminary figure Monday of 371 people rushed to hospitals in the metropolitan area over suspected heatstroke or heat exhaustion — the highest figure since the department began compiling statistics in 2010.

Japanese television reports Monday night and Tuesday in Saitama Prefecture and Tokyo showed reporters with thermometers at ground level, where road-surface temperatures of above 45 degrees Celsius had been recorded. “We are observing unprecedented levels of heat in some areas,” weather agency official Motoaki Takekawa said late Monday.

Past projections from the Environment Ministry, the Meteorological Agency, and the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, as well as most other Japanese and international climate experts, agree that temperatures in the country — as well as extreme weather events — are very likely to rise in the coming years.

In 2015, the Meteorological Agency predicted that the nation’s average annual temperature between 2076 and 2095 would be 2.5 to 3.5 degrees higher than that of the 1980-1999 period and that flash downpours would become more frequent. To prepare for the worst, a law was passed last month urging all local governments to draw up plans for the possibility of impacts due to climate change.

“We should see the heat wave this year as an example of (Japan’s) future climate and be ready for these extreme weather phenomena with a well-thought-out adaptation plan,” Konishi said.

Information from Kyodo and AFP-Jiji added

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