Sunday, January 24, 2016

Legendary cold

So cold I am wearing gloves inside.

It fell to 1C today in Taichung, the coldest I've ever experienced here in Taichung, so cold I am wearing cheap work gloves inside my house. Up at my university in Linkou at about 200 meters of altitude, it snowed. It snowed also in Yilan and several deaths of old people in northern Taiwan were reported. Because houses are not heated or even insulated, a legacy of our construction-industrial state's premium on speed of (shoddy) construction, it wants to be as cold inside as it is outside. Concrete houses are refrigerators... yet the worse thing is the wind, that brutal north wind that makes the outside uncomfortable even when it is deceptively sunny.

Chen Chen-hsiang's old Geo-Essays on Taiwan, first published in 1982 as a collection of still older essays, observes...
With the arrival of the cool season, the variation of temperature between south and north becomes more apparent. In February, the coldest month for a large part of Taiwan, the mean monthly temperature at Hengchun is 20.5C, and at Taipei, 14.8C, showing a difference of 5.7C. On the average, for every 55 kilometers one moves northward the mean temperature of the coldest month falls by 1C.

Cold weather occurs only in the north, when that part is subject to persistent rain or when it is influenced by a cold wave flowing southward from the mainland. The extreme is -1C. Frost is occasionally seen on the ground in the northern part of the island. In the 50 years 1897-1946 Taipei had 34 frosts, Taichung 31 and Tainan only four. This possibility of frost is one of the reasons why sugar cane, banana and pineapple plantations are limited to the south and centre of the island.(p12)
As humans heat the earth, these weather patterns have changed, and frosts have become rarer. A recent paper on frost in the Fushan forest in northeastern Taiwan at 700 meters notes:
The extreme cold temperature (1.3 °C) recorded in March 2005 was a rare event at Fushan and was very unusual in its timing: this freezing temperature only occurred once in March for the past 24 years from 1991 to 2014 (Lu et al. 2000; Lu, Hwang & Huang 2009). This frost event appeared to have a long-lasting effect on plant reproduction of several species at Fushan, especially to those species with new leaves or flowers during the frost. For example, many Lauraceae species that produced new leaves and flowers in early March were greatly impacted by this event. In consequence, these species did not produce seeds in the following fall. The disastrous loss of flowers and seeds not only reduced recruitment in these plant populations but also initiated trophic cascades (Inouye 2000). For instance, Formosan rock macaques (Macaca cyclopis) that rely heavily on fruits as their main diet suffered from extremely high mortality in 2005 and low birth rates in 2006 at Fushan (Su, Teng & Lai 2010).
Cold is not good if plants and animals are not adapted to it.

ADDED: Snowing in the Taipei Basin in the afternoon today... and snow in Dakeng right above my house.
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Anonymous said...

Indeed, it's a strong cold and wet front: snow falls in Tungshi (Taichung), Yangmei (Taoyuan), Linkou (Taoyuan/Hsingpei) and most of the lower terrains in Taipei (such as Maokong, where the gondola lift goes) and northern Taiwan. The snowline has fallen to the level of 400-500 meters above sea.

As a kid in the 1960s, frost was not an unusual sight in middle Taiwan in winter time. Farmers used to resort to plastic covers to protect their crops, fish farmers used to suffer major loss due to frost.

Bundle up. Hot pot time!

Anonymous said...

you'll love this im sure

"As China does as it pleases with Swedish and British passport-holders, democratic Taiwan overwhelmingly votes for a Western-educated, reformist, progressive and pluralist leader. The West’s response? Implicitly criticize the Taiwanese for inconveniencing Beijing. Tut-tut at them for disrupting the Communists’ plan to absorb and crush their free society. Warn them, as the obvious troublemakers in all this, not to provoke China into ramping up the military threat."

Kaminoge said...

There are a lot of things that can be blamed on "the construction-industrial state's premium on speed of (shoddy) construction", but is the fact that your home is cold and non-insulated one of them? When it is warm/hot and/or humid for roughly ten months out of the year, does it make financial sense to insulate a house or install central heating? During the time when I lived in Taiwan, I appreciated those tile floors and concrete walls when the weather was hot and sticky; during the winter we made do with space heaters and sweaters.

Even in Japan, where it can get very cold and snowy in many parts of the country, most homes lack central heating and insulation (Hokkaido is an exception). We coped by using kerosene heaters and wall-mounted air conditioners to heat up individual rooms, and by placing extra covers over our futons. I chalked it up to cultural preferences rather than victimization at the hands of a construction state (of which Japan is arguably a more notorious example of than Taiwan).

Michael Turton said...

When it is warm/hot and/or humid for roughly ten months out of the year, does it make financial sense to insulate a house or install central heating?

Yes, because insulation helps reduce A/C costs. And it is much much easier to repair a wooden house. Taiwan has concrete houses because concrete companies are closely connected to the Party-State, not because they make more sense in a tropical area.

Kaminoge said...

"And it is much much easier to repair a wooden house."

In Japan, as Wikipedia notes, "...houses are presumed to have a limited lifespan, and are generally torn down and rebuilt after a few decades, generally twenty years for wooden buildings...", so I don't think ease of repair is a great consideration. Also, about a quarter of all residential buildings are constructed out of ferroconcrete (I lived in a couple). From what I've gleaned from some random Google searches, the consensus appears to be that wood deteriorates more rapidly in tropical climates. The construction state in Taiwan, however, is responsible for far too many shoddily constructed houses that also are hideous to look at.

Having lived in both kinds, given a choice, I'd put up with the brief cold of a concrete-and-tile Taiwanese apartment than the freezing drafts that blow through a traditional Japanese wooden home during a long, cold winter. I once visited a 17-century house in Takayama (Japan Alps region) during one Lunar New Year vacation, and even with thick socks on, it was painful to walk across the ice-cold tatami mats.

But as I write this, though there is two feet of snow and below-zero temperatures outside, I'm enjoying the benefits of central heating. It's getting toasty in here...

Carlos said...

As someone in the building industry I can confirm that concrete isn't a great insulator… but it's not so bad as to be the main problem. It's more the doors and windows, and, above all, the roof. Neither energy prices nor regulations have forced anyone there to take them seriously in terms of insulation. California has a mild climate but we've been strict on this and our energy use has been d clinging despite a growing population.

Also, I've seen how difficult it is to convince a country to change its favorite building material. Chile, for example, exports a lot of timber, but no amount of M8+ earthquakes will get them to live in wood buildings. I call it Three Little Pigs syndrome. It would be a difficult transition - it takes a lot of expertise to keep wood dry and free from termites (don't forget the species we fear the most in the US is the Formosan termite).. In the US we're so used to it that everybody knows how to do it and we have all the right industries in place. In other countries it'd take decades for those to reach a good quantity and quality standard.

In concrete's defense, it's a better choice if you're going to pack buildings next to each other with minimal separation in a seismic area.

an angry taiwanese said...

Another reason that KMT government discourages wooden housing because the Chinese colonists exported forest wood to make money from 1940s to 1960s until there was no more profitable tree to be harvested.

Every executive in Bureau of Forest was Chinese at that time.

Furthermore, the KMT created a very successful lie: Japanese did the forest exploitation. Until these days most Taiwanese still believe that lie.

Anonymous said...

There are evidently a lot of concrete homes in Florida, Puerto Rico, and even Iceland. The tentacles of the KMT sure are far-reaching...

an angry taiwanese said...

The tentacles of the KMT sure are far-reaching...
As a matter of fact, yes, what you say is true. KMT-ROC regime has helped many authoritarian regimes to murder their own peoples in the world.

One example is described by Linda Gail Arrigo 艾琳達. Her words: