Heat wave bakes Korea

A girl plays in a fountain to cool down in the hot weather in Seoul.

SEOUL - Record heat waves have been gripping most of the country for the past week, prompting the government to issue a preliminary warning of power shortages Thursday.

Heat alerts were issued for a broad swath of the nation with peak temperatures hovering around 35 degrees Celsius. No relief is in sight for the next week, weather officials said.

In Ulsan the mercury reached a 30-year high at 38.8 degrees Celsius on Thursday, the hottest day since the Korea Meteorological Administration began keeping records.

Other spots including Seoul reported record-high midday temperatures this week.

Tropical nights have continued in most areas for days with temperatures higher than 25 degrees.

Hot weather combined with high humidity raised the discomfort index to 80.

A scorching heat wave is forecast to persist until mid-August as the North Pacific High, a wind pattern in the Northern Hemisphere, started to expand belatedly.

A heat watch has been issued in most parts of the country since Wednesday and was raised to a heat warning in some parts of Gangwon, North Gyeongsang, North Jeolla and South Chungcheong provinces Thursday.

A heat watch is issued when the highest temperature is expected to reach 33 degrees for more than two days while a warning is made when temperature over 35 degrees Celsius is anticipated.

On Thursday afternoon, a government agency issued a preliminary warning for a power shortage as electricity consumption increased.

Korea Power Exchange, the state-run electricity distributor, said the electricity level temporarily slipped under 4.5 million kilowatts at 1:34 p.m. causing it to issue the level-one warning, the lowest among four phrases.

It is the first time for KPX to issue the level-one warning for a power shortage in 20 days after July 19.

Energy Minister Yoon Sang-jick, who visited the KPX to check the nation's power demand and supply status, requested full support from companies. He also called for the public to join the ministry's power-saving campaign, saying that the first crisis in power supply this summer could come during the next seven days.

Employees at the state-run Korea Electric Power Co. were mobilized to appeal to the campaign on the streets during daily power demand peak times between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m.

The ongoing difficulties in supplying electricity this summer were caused mainly because six reactors out of 23 nuclear power plants, the nation's second largest power generation source, were shut down due to involvement in parts-related corruption scandals or for regular check-ups.

The focus of the ministry's contingency plan to prevent a possible blackout is put to control power consumption as it is difficult to find a way to raise power supply in a short period time.

The ministry also seeks to reform the energy bill-charging system this fall to raise energy usage efficiency.