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A Record Heat Wave and Its Implications
Volume 8, Number 23: 8 June 2005

In August of 2003 blistering heat affected much of Europe, causing many to wonder if it was the first wave of the extremely hot weather that climate alarmists had long been predicting to result from anthropogenic CO2 emissions.  The intense heat, according to press reports, withered crops, sparked wildfires, decimated livestock and enhanced the melting of Alpine glaciers.  Most serious of all was the loss of human life, particularly among the frail and elderly, leading some to report that cutting carbon emissions had become a pressing personal issue for relatives of those who died.  A report in Nature went so far as to claim that anthropogenic activities had doubled the chances of such a heat wave occurring, and others said that such studies could be used in court against utilities and other industries that emit CO2.

Some time previously, there was another impressive "heat wave attack" of similar, if not greater, proportions.  It was felt throughout northern China, including Beijing, Tianjin and the provinces of Hebei, Xhanxi and Shandong.  A press report from Tianjin said "July's heat is insupportable; fields full of cracks; rocks scorched; melting metal on mast top; many died of heat."  In Gaoyi the temperature was said to be "as hot as fire in rooms and under heavy shades of trees, with melting lead and tin at midday and many died of thirst on 19-26 July."  Other reports of people dying from the intense heat were received from Shenze, Changzhi, Fushan, Gaoqing and Pingyuan, with the communication from Shenze saying "the disaster is indeed unprecedented."  In fact, from the 14th to the 25th of July, it was reported that 11,400 people died from the heat in Beijing and its suburbs.  This number, however, was a vast underestimate of the real death toll, for it included only "poor people, like craftsmen, or workers," neglecting the deaths of "the well-off and the ones in service," of which it was said "there were a large number."  And that was just in Beijing.

How unusual was the deadly heat wave?  Zhang and Gaston (2004) say it was the hottest period of the hottest summer experienced in north China over the past seven centuries.  In introducing their report, they noted that extraordinarily high temperatures had occurred after 1998 in Europe, North America and India, and that in 1999 in North China (based on measurements made in Beijing) "a temperature of 42.2C was observed, a record that is next to the 42.6C in 1942."  What makes the Chinese heat wave truly extraordinary, however, is that its peak warmth exceeded the previously recognized high temperature by fully 2C and that it occurred in 1743, sandwiched between two of the coldest intervals of the Little Ice Age!

Why had we never before heard of this impressive heat wave?  Zhang and Gaston say they first learned about it in "ancient archives kept in Europe" that contained "long-lost early meteorological records of Beijing," wherein they found "the records of July 1743."  In addition, they say that "from letters written by European Jesuit missionaries in China at that time we acquired information on the observational methods, instruments and weather conditions."  These letters were accompanied by return correspondence from the French Academy of Science in Paris; and the two scientists say that "18th century French scientists paid much attention to the standardization of measuring systems, ranking first in the world," leading them to "highly value the 1743 data for rarity where observations, time, site and instruments are given in detail."

Thus alerted to the existence of the instrumentally-documented heat wave, the pair of scientists looked for additional corroborating information in A Compendium of Chinese Meteorological Records of the Last 3000 Years, which was compiled by Zhang (2000) "from official historical books, local chronicles, official documents and the writings of well-educated people, totaling 8221 sources."  Therein they found a wealth of material describing the impact of the searing heat, only a few of which items they report in their paper and of which we quote fewer still.

What are the implications of this amazing heat wave?

The Chinese heat wave of July 1743 significantly overshadows the European heat wave of August 2003, particularly since the latter heat wave had a much greater "head start," as it were, on the 1743 heat wave, being imbedded in the Modern Warm Period, the most recent two decades of which are claimed by climate alarmists to have been significantly warmer than any comparable period of the past two millennia.  By comparison, the 1743 heat wave was imbedded in the midst of the Little Ice Age, which is nearly universally acknowledged to have been the coldest multi-century period of the last ten millennia.  Also, and illustrating the intellectual shallowness of claiming the 2003 heat wave was due in large part to anthropogenic CO2 emissions, we note that in 1743 there was 100 ppm less CO2 in the air than there was in 2003, making it almost impossibly difficult for a heat wave of that earlier era to have eclipsed the one of 2003, yet it did.

Clearly, the uniqueness of recent meteorological phenomena, including global warming and all that is claimed to go with it, cannot be correctly evaluated without a thorough knowledge of past meteorological phenomena of a similar nature; and when information is discovered that allows such comparisons to be made, it is often the case that currently-reigning concepts must be significantly revised.

Sherwood, Keith and Craig Idso

Zhang, D.E.  2000.  A Compendium of Chinese Meteorological Records of the Last 3000 Years.  Jiangsu Education Press, Nanjing, pp. 2340-2366.

Zhang, D. and Gaston, D.  2004.  Northern China maximum temperature in the summer of 1743: A historical event of burning summer in a relatively warm climate background.  Chinese Science Bulletin 49: 2508-2514.