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Unbearable Heat Alert: Thailand Faces Deadliest Summer as Climate Crisis Spirals Out of Control!

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A tourist holds a bottle of water in his hand to cool himself down while visiting Wat Arun, or the Temple of Dawn, in Bangkok on Monday. The Meteorological Department forecasts that the temperature will reach 37 degrees Celsius on Tuesday. (Photo: Pornprom Satrabhaya)

The El Nino weather pattern is set to bring hotter and drier conditions across Thailand in the coming months, according to climate experts who warn of increasing health threats and water shortages due to climate change. Extreme heatwaves this summer have already surpassed expectations, with a new high-temperature record of 45.4 degrees Celsius measured in Tak on Saturday, breaking the previous record of 44.6 degrees Celsius in Mae Hong Son from April 28, 2016.

Experts are urging Thai authorities to take quick action to address the issue, as over 80% of the population has already been affected by unbearably hot weather and dwindling water supplies.

Asst Prof. Witsanu Attavanich, an agricultural economics and climate change expert at the Economics Department of Kasetsart University, warns that the public should prepare for prolonged droughts and extreme heat throughout the year. He explains that the effects of human-induced climate change and increasing greenhouse gas emissions from human activities have been contributing to the rise in global mean temperature since the industrial revolution, making extreme heat more prevalent in Thailand.

Although Thailand’s summer heat typically subsides with the arrival of monsoon season around mid-May, this year’s extreme heat may persist even after summer ends, due to the warming effects of the developing El Nino phenomenon. Weather projections by the International Research Institute for Climate Society (IRI) and the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) show a 62% chance that the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle will shift from a neutral phase to an El Nino phase sometime between May and July.

“The ENSO cycle in the Pacific Ocean is another major climate factor that is highly influential to the weather condition in Thailand, as when the ENSO cycle shifts toward a warm El Nino phase, it will result in warmer and more arid conditions in the Asia-Pacific,” says Asst Prof. Witsanu. “Conversely, the La Nina phase will lead to cooler and more intense rainfall in this region.”

As a result, there may be less rain during this rainy season, which could exacerbate water shortages and prevent weather from cooling down. Thailand might even experience over a year of prolonged hot and dry conditions if the El Nino phase continues. Farmers, who are directly exposed to extreme heat and rely on water for their crops, will be heavily impacted by these weather patterns.

Asst Prof. Witsanu is calling for authorities to carefully plan how to protect people from extreme heat and ensure proper management of water resources in the months ahead. He also highlights the concern among international scientists that El Nino will intensify the impacts of human-induced climate change and potentially push global mean temperature rise beyond the Paris Agreement’s target of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Dr. Thiravat Hemachudha, Chief of the Thai Red Cross Emerging Infectious Diseases Health Science Centre, also expresses concern over Thailand’s increasingly hot climate. Dr. Thiravat warns of a higher risk of deadly heat stroke as extreme heat becomes more frequent and prolonged in Thailand.

As parts of Thailand face longer and more frequent periods of extreme heat over 40 degrees Celsius, Dr. Thiravat reports an increase in the number of people who have died from heat stroke in recent years. Heat stroke can occur when the body fails to regulate its internal temperature, causing core body temperatures to rise above 40 degrees Celsius and potentially leading to permanent disability or death. “Healthy adults can also fall victim to heat-related illnesses, so we should be more conscious about the risks of overheating,” he says.

Tara Buakamsri, Thailand Country Director for Greenpeace Southeast Asia, notes that this year’s scorching summer is a clear result of climate change. According to a study by Berkeley Earth, Thailand’s annual average temperature has been gradually rising since records were first kept in 1840, with a 1.5 degrees Celsius increase that outpaces the average global temperature rise of 1.3 degrees Celsius.

“A 1-degree change seems very small, but when considering complex weather variability in reality, only a degree of mean temperature change is significant enough to warm up the weather in some areas by several degrees and contribute to gigantic changes in the global climate system,” explains Tara. A 2019 article in the PNAS Nexus journal predicts that Thailand’s annual mean temperature will increase from the current average of 26 degrees Celsius to over 29 degrees Celsius by 2070 if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced and global warming continues unabated.

Under such conditions, Thailand would regularly face extreme heatwaves, making most of the country unsuitable for living without air conditioning. “Even though Thai people are familiar with a hot climate, such heat, over 40 degrees Celsius, can cause serious health issues from overheating, especially given Thailand’s relatively high humidity, which can accelerate the heat index and make it feel hotter,” says Tara.

Tara calls on the authorities and policymakers to prioritize preparing the country for the impending climate challenges and take meaningful action towards mitigating climate change.

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