Asians haul out sweaters to cope with sudden cold snap
(Associated Press) - January 26, 2016 - 5:28am

BANGKOK — After sweating through unseasonably high temperatures last week, residents of semi-tropical Thailand have had to scavenge through their closets for sweaters and scarves to keep the chill off their bones.

Temperatures in Bangkok, the capital, hit an unseasonably high of 34.6 degrees C (93 F) on Saturday only to plunge to a low of 16.1 degrees C (61 F) on Monday. The weather was still cool on Tuesday, and Bangkok residents could be seen wearing jackets and wool caps.

Much of the rest of Asia was also shivering.

In Hong Kong, the mercury dipped to its lowest in six decades. The rest of southern China also recorded unusually cold weather, with record-breaking low temperatures in many places.

In Vietnam's capital, Hanoi, the temperature dropped to 5.4 degrees C (42 F), the lowest since 1977. Meteorologists said mountaintop snowfalls across a dozen northern provinces were unprecedented.

Bangkok's temperatures were cold enough to have schools advise parents to bundle up their little ones with extra warm clothing, but not record-worthy — the mercury touched 11.7 C (53 F) in 1999 and 10 C (50 F) in 1975.

In provincial areas farther north, cold winter weather is not so unusual. Students in the city of Chiang Mai who buzz about the city on motorbikes added fashionable jackets and sweaters to their ensembles, while country folk warmed themselves around bonfires at night.

Officials issue warnings against the deadly misunderstanding that alcohol is a way to fight the chill — while bringing a warming sensation, it actually lowers the core body temperature, increasing the risk of death by exposure to the cold.

Inevitably, some of the old and infirm succumb to the chill. The cold has been blamed for contributing to the deaths of at least five people in Thailand this year.

Bangkokians, less accustomed to cold temperatures, have mixed feelings about it.

"I don't like this kind of weather, because my body can't resist the cold," said Pornthip Manadomphon, 74, taking her morning walk in the city's Lumpini Park. "Look, I have put on many layers, I still feel cold."

Sampao Jampimai, 43, said the cold makes would-be customers rush past her shoe store without stopping, but even though it was so cold that her fingers stiffened in the morning, it was exciting to have the rare opportunity to don her winter clothes.

Visiting tourists were a bit surprised.

"This kind of weather is like the summer of Germany," said Benedikt Jum, 26."I'm wearing shorts and a T-shirt, so I was slightly surprised to see people wearing winter clothes here. For me, I prefer this temperature in Bangkok, like my summer. I don't need 35 to 38 degree C weather."

Among the city's residents most susceptible to the cold are the reptiles at Dusit Zoo.

Natthaya Tuaprakone, a scientist at the zoo, said veterinarians seek to provide the animals with a stable, warm environment, especially cold-blooded reptiles such as snakes and turtles.

"For animals which might have less resistance to the cold weather, the staff will provide food and supplementary vitamin C," she said. "We will try to keep their surroundings warm by arranging more natural light and electric lights at night," as well providing mattresses for insulation against cold concrete floors.

The city's stray dogs get ad hoc care.

At piers along the banks of the Chao Phraya River, where packs of dogs cozy up to friendly tourists and vendors grilling food, some of the canines have been dressed up in old shirts and discarded blankets, the work of a kind volunteer caretaker. Some dozed in the sunshine, away from the shade and winds whipping up waves on the river.

Other parts of Asia more accustomed to cool winter temperatures were nonetheless also caught by surprise.

In Japan, the unusual cold brought sleet as far south as Okinawa, a subtropical island known for its mild winters. Another southern island, Amami-Oshima, recorded its first snow in more than a century.

Record snowfalls hit Nagasaki and other cities in Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan's four main islands. Some communities in Kyushu were without water service on Tuesday, state broadcaster NHK reported, after the rare deep freeze burst water pipes, draining supplies.

Temperatures dipped below freezing at higher elevations in Hong Kong, prompting throngs of the curious unaccustomed to such chilly temperatures to head to the city's highest mountain this past weekend to try to catch a glimpse of frost.

Many were also hoping to see snow after rumors started circulating on social media that it was on the way, but the government dismissed the reports.

Some 129 people had to be rescued on Sunday and Monday, including 67 runners in an ultramarathon that had to be canceled halfway through, the government and news reports said. More than 300 firefighters, 39 ambulances and rescue helicopters were deployed for the operation.

In northern Vietnam, many kindergartens and primary schools were closed when temperatures dropped below 10 degrees C (50 F). Heavy snow blanketed the popular northern resort city of Sapa, where dozens of cows and buffaloes reportedly died of the cold.

Guangzhou, the capital of China's industrial powerhouse, Guangdong province, saw its first snowfall in half a century, while other southern and central areas, including coastal Fujian and mountainous Chongqing in the west, also experienced rare sprinklings of snow and ice.

Flights were disrupted between Saturday and Monday and power to about 80,000 households in the tourist heartland of Yunnan province was knocked out.

At least one death was blamed on the weather, that of a woman in Chongqing who fell through the bars on the balcony of her 24th-floor apartment while watching the snow fall.

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