It’s only February, but it feels like May in Beijing. Temperatures some 40 degrees above normal brought historically warm winter weather to China, Japan and other parts of Asia over the weekend.
Beijing’s temperature shot up to 78 degrees Sunday, its highest temperature ever observed between December and February by 10 degrees.
“Record pulverized,” wrote Maximiliano Herrera, a climate historian known for meticulously keeping track of temperature extremes across the world. He noted that Sunday’s reading surpassed previous marks for warm weather in each of the three core winter months. The December record stands at 57.7 degrees, with 58.4 degrees the record for January.
The springlike weather began in Beijing on Saturday, when the mercury soared to 69.4 degrees Fahrenheit, the first time on record the city has climbed above 20 degrees Celsius (68 Fahrenheit) during the month of February. That set a new record, beating out the high of 67.6 degrees observed on Feb. 13, 1996. Then it hit 78 degrees the next day.
Breaking a record alone is rare, but to do so by 10 degrees is virtually unheard of; usually records fall by margins of only a fraction of a degree.
The warmth seen in Beijing would be the equivalent of New York climbing into the mid-80s, or Denver or Washington, D.C., flirting with 90 in late February.
The situation bears resemblance to the extreme heat wave that swallowed Europe in July 2019, when temperatures in Paris and Germany climbed to 109 degrees and in Belgium and the Netherlands to 107. Records then fell by between 3 and 6 degrees.
The extreme February temperatures in eastern China were preceded by a pair of national records in Mongolia. The country set an all-time February record on Friday in Tsetserleg, a city in central Mongolia, when a high temperature of 59.7 degrees was measured. The previous record of 58.4 degrees was set in 1992 in Dalanzadgad, farther to the southeast.
That same newly-claimed record was edged out on Saturday when Hanbogd in south central Mongolia popped up to 60.4 degrees.
Temperatures in Mongolia are usually cooler than in China. Mongolia is farther north and has a cool desert or semi-aid climate; winters can feature Arctic cold down to minus-70 degrees. Mongolia is the 18th largest country in the world but has a population just over 3.2 million.
According to Herrera, the extreme heat in Asia can be traced back to Europe. He tweeted that Uzbekistan nicked 90 degrees on Thursday.
While affecting China, the same warm air mass spread to Japan and the Korean Peninsula over the weekend. One hundred-and-nine cities in Japan observed new February temperature records. South Korea enjoyed unusually mild temperatures too.
The record warmth in Japan is a sharp departure from early January when the country saw a barrage of ocean-effect snowstorms that each produced mind-boggling totals of up to 7 feet.
The anomalous warmth was a product of both surface and upper-air features that overlapped to push much of Asia into record territory. A ridge of high pressure at the mid levels brought sinking motion and clear skies, favoring warm weather. Similarly, surface high pressure reinforced the sunshine, while also inducing a channel of warm, southerly winds that pumped in a toasty air mass from the south.
In addition, the air was dry, allowing for it to warm up more easily. That meant balmy daytime highs along with big nighttime temperature fluctuations. While Beijing soared to near 80 on Sunday, it started the day in the upper 30s.
The heat in Asia can be tied to the same northern hemispheric weather pattern that brought historic cold and snow to Texas. It’s a high amplitude pattern, meaning the jet stream is extra wavy. Over the United States, the jet stream dove southward, allowing a tongue of cold air to spill down across the central Lower 48. That same jet stream screamed north over Europe, with the resulting ridging of high pressure to its south introducing atypical mildness.
Beijing should see a return to more seasonable weather Tuesday and Wednesday with temperatures in the 40s. An additional warm-up is possible late week.