Asians haul out sweaters to cope with sudden cold snap

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.

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.

Temperatures in Bangkok, Thailand's 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.

Schools in Bangkok advised parents to bundle up their little ones with extra warm clothing.

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

Bangkokians had mixed feelings about the cold.

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

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.