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'It's Too Hot': Shanghai Wilts In Record-Setting Heat Wave

Originally published on Wed August 7, 2013 5:41 pm

Temperatures Wednesday in Shanghai hit an all-time high: 105.4 degrees, according to officials here. It was the hottest day in 140 years, since the government began keeping records.

The Chinese megacity is in the midst of its hottest summer ever.

Usually bustling streets are near empty at noon and thousands have gone to hospitals for relief. To get a feel for how people are handling the heat wave, I waded into a public pool in the city's Hankou district. By early afternoon, the temperature was 98 degrees in the shade, according to the thermometer I brought along.

About 200 people played and swam in the pool, batting beach balls and cooling themselves beneath a mushroom-shaped waterfall. Those numbers seemed small considering the high temperature and Shanghai's enormous population.

Song Zicheng, a 17-year-old student, stepped away from one of the water slides and explained: "Everybody is home. It's too hot," he said.

"Maybe it will rain later," he added, hopefully.

In other words, Shanghai is so hot, most people won't even go to the pool.

Long-Running Heat Wave

And it's not just the past week; the heat has been relentless. In July, 24 days had temperatures of 95 degrees or higher, according to the state-run newspaper Shanghai Daily.

More than 10 people have already died from the heat here. Song has a grandmother who is in her 80s and who refuses to leave her home most of the day.

"She can't stand the heat," he said. "She only goes out when it's dark."

China's National Meteorological Center says the long-running heat wave is driven by a variety of factors, including climate change, as well as Shanghai's construction density, growing population and shrinking green space.

Dong Hejia came here as a teenager in the mid-1950s when Shanghai was much smaller. Now 74, Dong says one reason the temperatures are so high these days is because the city's countless skyscrapers trap the heat.

"When we were young, we only had low-rise buildings," said Dong, who recalled the tallest buildings were international hotels with just 24 floors. "Now those international hotels look like little brothers compared to the skyscrapers, which continue to grow and affect the air flow."

Changes In Behavior

The heat is affecting all kinds of behavior here. During rush hour, the sidewalks are dotted with brightly colored umbrellas held by Chinese women who customarily use them as shade in the hot summer months.

Earlier this week, I rode in a cab whose driver had covered half the windows with newspaper to keep the sun out. I had to roll down the window periodically to figure out where I was. Inevitably, the high temperatures are taking a toll on some businesses.

Zhang Deliang, a fruit vendor, ordinarily lays out his boxes of apples, peaches and Sunkist oranges on the sidewalk around 10 each morning and packs up around midnight. These days, he sets up around 5 p.m. because the heat is too much.

Zhang, a 46-year-old from Central China's Anhui province, says the weather is costing him customers and money.

"Fruit rots fast," says Zhang, who wears his purple striped polo-shirt rolled up over his rib-cage to cool his belly — a summer fashion of sorts among working-class Chinese men.

"When the temperature is high, people don't come out," he says. "They just sit inside blowing their air conditioning."

Zhang says this is the longest heat wave in his two decades living in Shanghai. Forecasters say he and the rest of this city of 23 million will have to continue to suffer through it until at least this weekend.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Today the temperature in Shanghai hit 105.4 degrees. That makes it the hottest day there since the government began keeping records 140 years ago. And the Chinese megacity is in the midst of its hottest summer ever. Usually bustling streets are near empty at noon and thousands have gone to hospitals for relief. NPR's Frank Langfitt reports on how Shanghai is trying to keep cool.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: It's early afternoon and I'm in a giant swimming pool in downtown Shanghai. I brought a thermometer and it says it's about 98 degrees in the shade. There's probably close to 200 people in the pool right now, a lot of them knocking balls around or cooling themselves beneath a fountain over here.

But given the heat we've had in the last several weeks, frankly, I expected more people. Song Zicheng is standing by a waterslide watching his friends splash into the pool below. Song, a 17-year-old high-schooler, says the reason this pool isn't more crowded is simple.

SONG ZICHENG: (Speaking foreign language)

LANGFITT: Everybody is home. It's too hot, he says. Maybe it will rain later, he adds, hopefully. That's right, Shanghai is so hot most people won't even go to the pool. And the heat has been relentless. In July, 24 days had temperatures of 95 degrees or above. More than 10 people have already died from the heat. Song has a grandmother in her 80s.

ZICHENG: (Speaking foreign language)

LANGFITT: She basically doesn't go out, he says. She can't stand the heat. She only goes out when it's dark. On the other side of the pool is Dong Hejia. He's wearing a black bathing cap and playing with his two grandchildren. Dong is 74 years old and used to work as a welder in a shipyard. He says this summer is the hottest he can remember.

Dong says one reason that temperatures are so high is because the city's countless skyscrapers trap the heat.

DONG HEJIA: (Through interpreter) When we were young, we only had low-rise buildings, the tallest was 24 stories. They were international hotels. Now those international hotels look like little brothers compared to the skyscrapers, which continue to grow and affect the airflow.

LANGFITT: China's national meteorological center attributes the heat wave to climate change as well as Shanghai's construction density, growing population and shrinking green space. And that heat wave is hurting some Shanghai businesses. It's after 9:30 at night and the temperature is still over 90. I'm standing on a street corner, talking to some fruit venders that I often buy from and there are hardly any customers here.

ZHANG DELIANG: (Speaking foreign language)

LANGFITT: Vender Zhang Deliang wears his purple-striped polo shirt rolled up over his ribcage to cool his belly. It's a summer fashion of sorts among Chinese working class men. Gazing at his boxes of apples, peaches and Sunkist oranges, he says the weather is costing him money.

DELIANG: (Speaking foreign language)

LANGFITT: Fruit rots fast, he says. When the temperature is high, people don't come out. They just sit inside blowing their air conditioning. Normally, Zhang starts selling at 10:00 in the morning and packs up around midnight. These days he begins at 5:00 in the afternoon because he can't take the heat. Forecasters say Zhang and the rest of this city of 23 million won't see a break in the temperature until at least this weekend. Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Shanghai. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.