Published: 10:09, June 27, 2023 | Updated: 10:09, June 27, 2023
N. China seeks respite from scorching heat
By Li Lei , Zhou Huiying and Zhang Yu

A visitor to the Temple of Heaven in Beijing on Friday uses a paper bag to protect herself against the sun. (PHOTO / XINHUA)

BEIJING/HARBIN/SHIJIAZHUANG – Many residents have been caught off guard by temperatures rising to record levels this month across China's northern provinces, which are generally cooler in summer than southern areas of the country.

On Thursday, temperatures in Beijing rose above 40 C for the first time in June in 60 years. They again topped 40 C on Friday and Monday, the municipal meteorological service reported. The service also forecast that temperatures in the city will top 40 C later this week.

With notifications popping up on smartphones over the weekend advising caution due to the unrelenting heat, Lu Ruihai began to worry about his pet ginger cat, Bad Guy.

Lu, 45, who works in advertising in Beijing, traveled home to visit his parents in the port city of Tianjin during the three-day Dragon Boat Festival holiday, which started on Thursday.

As he has done in the past, Lu left his cat alone in his apartment in Beijing. Knowing it would be hot, he left a window slightly open to ensure proper air circulation. He also drew the curtains to keep the room cool, and prepared ample food and water for his cat.

"However, when I read about the high temperature warnings, I started to regret not leaving the air conditioning on for Bad Guy," he said.

His fears rose in tandem with the dangerously high temperatures, ruining his holiday. On Saturday, he cut his vacation short and returned to Beijing, but was relieved to see Bad Guy running around to welcome him home.

"Thank heaven, my cat is blessed with good fortune," Lu said.

Head coverings are worn in Beijing on Friday as temperatures soar. (PHOTO / AFP)

Four-tier system

Beijing was among several metropolitan areas to issue the highest-level warning for soaring temperatures over the past week.

China has a four-tier, color-coded weather warning system. Red is the most severe level, followed by orange, yellow and blue. Red alerts are activated when temperatures top 40 C in a single day.

By Sunday, red alerts had been issued by cities in Shandong and Jilin provinces, and Inner Mongolia autonomous region.

Speaking at a news conference on Friday, Gao Hui, chief forecaster at the National Climate Center, said that due to global warming, extreme weather conditions, including heat waves, would become more frequent in northern provinces.

"There is a chance that temperatures will rise to record levels at some monitoring stations," he said.

Zoos in many parts of the country prepared to face the soaring temperatures.

At Beijing Zoo in the west of the city, a major tourist destination during the Dragon Boat Festival, two tigers frolicked in outdoor pools.

Beijing Daily reported that indoor areas for wild animals, including tigers and leopards, are air-conditioned day and night, with temperatures maintained at between 26 C and 28 C. Hippos at the zoo were fed iced watermelons and grapes to beat the heat.

A reading of more than 40 C is recorded in Beijing on Friday. Authorities in the city issued the highest-level warning for soaring temperatures over the past week. (PHOTO / XINHUA)

On Friday, the zoo's management asked visitors to report any incidents of animals in outdoor areas looking stressed due to the heat. It said the doors linking outdoor areas for the animals with indoor air-conditioned spaces were being left open to ensure the creatures' welfare.

Figures issued by the park service in Beijing showed that the zoo received 115,400 visitors from Thursday to Saturday. It was the third most popular tourist attraction in the Chinese capital, after the Summer Palace and Temple of Heaven, both UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Sites.

Ma Xizhe, a social media content producer in Beijing, took his son to the zoo on Saturday in the hope of seeing its star resident Meng Lan, a male panda. However, Meng Lan did not venture outdoors that day.

"We didn't see many animals, as remaining indoors is perhaps the best way for them to beat the heat," Ma said.

Ren Lei, a technology worker in Beijing, traveled to Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in Sichuan province during the holiday, his first trip to the venue for seven years.

"It was too hot, so the pandas would not venture out. It's better if I visit again in the cooler months," he said.

A delivery rider drinks water as she waits to cross a street in Beijing on Wednesday. (PHOTO / AP)

Beating the heat

Heat-beating products are trending on e-commerce sites and at their bricks-and-mortar counterparts.

Budget items have been introduced on e-commerce platforms such as JD.com and Taobao to help people stay cool.

For just 35 yuan ($4.80), e-buyers can obtain 24 iced patches to apply to the forehead. For almost the same price, they can purchase neck rings, which absorb heat when placed on the skin.

Media reports said pillows and quilts made from materials that feel cool on contact with the skin are also top sellers.

The China Meteorological Administration advised residents in cities including Beijing to avoid going out in the afternoon and to take precautions against heatstroke and dehydration.

The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention published a guide to help the public stay safe, warning that long-term exposure to high temperatures could cause a range of health issues such as cramps, exhaustion and even coma.

Children, pregnant women and seniors are among the most vulnerable groups, the center said.

Some residents in heat-affected areas chose to remain indoors to wait for temperatures to fall, while others flocked to coastal resorts to seek a respite from the sun.

Newlyweds Li Guoqing, who is a photographer in Beijing, and his wife sought cooler temperatures in Yanji, a hilly border town in Jilin province with a rich ethnic Korean culture. They spent three nights there, treating themselves to delicacies such as iced Korean noodles and barbecue. During their visit, the overnight temperature fell to 15 C.

The couple started planning their holiday trip a week earlier, when temperatures in Beijing had already risen to uncomfortable levels.

"Cooler weather is a major factor for us," Li said, adding that the couple also considered Beidaihe, a beach resort in Hebei province, and Yantai, a coastal town in Shandong province known for its seafood, as holiday destinations.

Chen Shu, a graduate student of traditional Chinese medicine, thought it would be too hot to remain in his dormitory in Beijing.

The 25-year-old took a bullet train to his hometown of Jinzhou, Liaoning province, which is close to the Bohai Sea, and where the highest temperatures are more than 10 C lower than those in Beijing.

During the three-day public holiday, he met up with friends, drank cold beer, and ate barbecue food.

"This is the way to spend summer," Chen said.

Children and adults keep cool in the sea off Qingdao, Shandong province, on Wednesday. (YU FANGPING / FOR CHINA DAILY)

Outdoor workers

Health experts have advised people to stay indoors, if possible in air-conditioned rooms, to wait out heat waves.

However, for workers such as electricians, railway maintenance employees and food delivery drivers, this is a luxury.

In Hebei and Heilongjiang provinces, where high temperature warnings have been issued in recent days, authorities raced to equip outdoor workers with heat-beating necessities. They also used cutting-edge technologies to minimize outdoor tasks under the scorching sun.

A group of female workers dressed in eye-catching yellow vests, and carrying large kettles, straw hats and sophisticated equipment, started work one day last week in Shijiazhuang, capital of Hebei province

The workers' main responsibility is to inspect rail lines by using flaw detection instruments. These employees play a vital role in ensuring the safe and smooth passage of trains.

Wang Lu, a head worker, said heatstroke prevention suits were issued to the workers to keep them safe. They were also given mosquito repellent and sunscreen cream.

After a day of working in high temperatures, the employees return to their dormitories, where mung bean soup is prepared to help them cool down, Wang added.

A cyclist protects herself from the sun in Shenyang, Liaoning province, on Saturday. (PHOTO / CHINA DAILY)

Delivery drivers also endure long spells of exposure to heat. In Harbin, capital of Heilongjiang province, their employer, the food delivery platform Eleme, reduces the risks they face.

Li Bo, director of the logistics department at Eleme's branch in Heilongjiang, said: "We have issued thousands of packs against heatstroke to our food delivery workers across Harbin. The packs include a pair of sun-shading sleeves, a bottle of water, a waterproof bag and mosquito repellent.

"During the extremely hot weather on Sunday and Monday, we set up water supply points at 35 stations throughout the city. Cold bottled water, ice cream, cooling ointment and other materials were prepared for our workers."

Drones are being used in Harbin to detect electrical equipment overheating, helping reduce the need for human inspections.

Operated by the State Grid Harbin Power Supply Co, the drones capture images of specific areas and upload them to a digital platform, where they are examined for possible equipment malfunctions.

The drones can inspect an electric power line spanning 2 kilometers in just 30 minutes, the company said in a statement.

Contact the writers at lilei@chinadaily.com.cn