A customer stands under a cooling mist spray at a street kiosk during high temperatures in central Madrid, Spain, on Thursday, April 27, 2023. Image Credit: Bloomberg

Manila: Asia remains in the grip of a blistering heatwave, chiming with predictions from climate scientists that 2023 could be the world’s hottest year.

In an ominous sign ahead of the northern hemisphere summer, an emerging El Nino weather pattern is pushing the mercury to unprecedented levels in southern parts of the continent.

Vietnam reported its highest ever temperature of 44.2°C over the weekend, triggering power shortage warnings, while Laos also likely broke records.

The Philippines cut classroom hours after the heat index reached the “danger” zone, reflecting the potentially deadly combination of heat and humidity.

The scorching temperatures follow a pattern of increasing extreme weather, caused by the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, that’s sending the world into uncharted territory. The sweltering conditions are testing the ability of governments to protect public health and also to prevent major disruptions to agriculture and power generation in economies that are still recovering from the ravages of COVID-19.

El Nino — characterized by warmer ocean temperatures across the Pacific — has far-reaching impacts on weather patterns around the world. It could bring relief to drought-parched areas of Argentina and the southern US, while blanketing parts of Asia and Australia with hotter, drier conditions. Coffee, sugar, palm oil and cocoa crops would be especially vulnerable.

The prolonged dryness across Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia and Thailand is due to suppressed rainfall over the past winter, said Tieh-Yong Koh, an associate professor and weather and climate scientist at the Singapore University of Social Sciences.

“Because dry soil heats up faster than moist soil, a hot anomaly naturally forms as spring arrives,” he said, adding that this has been exacerbated by global warming over the past decades.

Fresh peak

Temperatures in Thailand remained above 40°C in many northern and central regions over much of last week, pushing power demand to a fresh peak. A group of businesses and banks have asked the government to prepare an action plan to deal with a potential drought that they say might last for three years.

Rainfall in Malaysia may be as much as 40 per cent lower in some areas, which could put palm oil production at risk in one of the world’s biggest producers of the commodity.

Elsewhere in Asia, scorching temperatures have also roasted parts of China, India and Bangladesh over the past few weeks. Yunnan province, a major aluminum hub in southwest China, suffered its worst drought in a decade last month. India on alert

India is on alert for more heat waves following soaring temperatures in April that prompted school closures in some states and caused at least 11 people to die of heat stroke after attending an event.

Spain and Portugal recorded their hottest April on record as a mass of hot air brought temperatures above 30°C and close to 40°C in some areas at the end of the month.

Last month was the fourth-hottest month of April on record globally for the 1991 to 2020 period, according to a report by the European Union’s Earth observation agency Copernicus. Parts of Africa, the area around the Caspian Sea, Southeast Asia, Japan and northern North America were all much warmer than average.

The heat wave happened amid a widespread drought that’s hitting the region for the second consecutive year. April was Spain’s driest month since records started in 1961, according to Aemet. The month was also drier than average south of the Alps, in regions of Mediterranean France, northwestern Scandinavia, the Baltic countries and much of western Russia.