Over the past two weeks, polar vortex-induced freezing weather has seen all-time cold temperature records tumble across Central and Eastern Asia. This included China's coldest temperature ever. On January 22, Mohe in the country's northernmost Heilongjiang province recorded a chilly -53°C/-63.4°F, the lowest temperature ever measured in China.
Previously, Tongulah in Siberia, Russia, had recorded -62.7°C/-80.9°F, a new record low for the town. As the icy weather moved West to East, Northern India also experienced near-record chill, while Nokkundi in the Balochistan province of Pakistan repeated an all-time record for its coldest-ever temperature at -10°C/+14°F. 160 people perished in Afghanistan over the past 14 days when temperatures dropped way below their usual levels.
On January 25 and 26, the cold hit Japan, causing several local record lows to fall - for example in Otawara in the central Tochigi prefecture, which recorded -16.4°C/+2.5°F. In subtropical Southern Japan, Kousa in Kumamoto prefecture chilled down to -9°C/+15.8°F - a new record low. At the same time, Maniwa in the Okayama prefecture's Chugoku mountains broke its snowfall record after receiving a fresh 93 cm/36 inches in just 24 hours. While just short of a new record, Kamishihoro on Hokkaido recorded -24.9°C/-12.8°F on January 27 - the second-coldest temperature ever in the town and the lowest ever recorded in January. The chilly weather also reached South Korea, Taiwan and finally Southeast Asia, but no records were broken there.
The cold is in stark contrast with recent heatwaves that also hit the Asian continent. According to climatologist M. Herrara via Twitter, Myanmar at the end of January broke high temperature records for January in two locations when the mercury approached +30°C/+86°F. Right after the cold snap, China set new record highs for January in Yunnan province when Kunming hit +24.1°C/+75.4°F and Yuanmou recorded +31.6°C/+88.9°F.
The polar vortex is cold air that normally circulates around the Earth's poles but can occasionally extend further away from them. While climate scientists are still trying to find out whether human-made alterations to global climate can indeed make the polar vortex more unstable, climate change is generally believed to exaccerbate extreme weather phenomena.