SEOUL, South Korea — Seoul usually gets cold in winter, but not like this.
The South Korean capital is one of many places in Asia where temperatures neared or exceeded record lows this week. Fingers and toes went numb. Hot pots were boiled. And people who braved the elements — sometimes in places with escalating coronavirus outbreaks — turned to humor as a coping mechanism.
As the mercury in Seoul dropped below 0 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 18 Celsius) on Friday, just shy of a record low that was set in 1986, people joked on social media that it felt as though they’d woken up in Siberia.
In Beijing, the temperature reached minus 3 degrees Fahrenheit on Thursday — the lowest since 1966, state-run news media reported. People on the Twitter-like platform Weibo said it had taught them what it must feel like to live at the North Pole.
Even China’s official forecasting website cracked a joke, releasing a map that rendered the nation of 1.4 billion people as a freezer.
“Which shelf are you on?” asked a headline that went viral.
Japan was unusually cold, too, as was Mongolia, where late December brought what appeared to be some of the highest barometric pressure readings ever recorded on earth.
Even in subtropical Hong Kong, the local weather observatory on Friday issued a rare frost warning. Daily lows were still above 40 degrees, but in a city where indoor heating is rarely needed, some pedestrians bundled up as if they were on their way to a ski lodge.
Here are a few images from Asia’s very cold week.
In the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang, people on Friday threw hot water into air that was about minus 16 degrees Fahrenheit. It instantly condensed into ice crystals.
In Beijing, some intrepid swimmers dove into a lake, despite strong winds and freezing temperatures.
Some people bundled up for a drive around town, while others said they were staying in.
“The cold quenched my desire to leave the house,” said Sisi Yang, a Beijing resident who works in the film industry. “I’m worried that people will freeze to death.”
In South Korea, the cold snap was exacerbated by a surprise snowstorm on Wednesday that caused a giant traffic jam in the Seoul district of Gangnam. That prompted an apology from the city’s acting mayor, Seo Jeong-hyup, and plenty of grumbling from stranded motorists, one of whom likened the hourslong jam to a “disaster movie.”
On Friday, a presenter in Seoul for the television station YTN showed just how cold it was by brandishing a bowl of instant noodles that had frozen solid after sitting out for an hour or so.
The Korea Meteorological Administration later warned that temperatures over the weekend could stay frigid — at 5 degrees Fahrenheit in Seoul, and minus 7 in the city of Chuncheon, near the border with North Korea.
As snow hammered Jeju Island on Friday, the only thing moving on one road was a herd of deer.
And in Seoul, children sledded down a hill in a city park.
In Japan, the weather has been so cold lately that the national broadcaster, NHK, carried a segment last month about what animals in zoos were doing to keep warm.
Monkeys at a zoo in Aichi Prefecture gathered around a bonfire, NHK reported, and in the western city of Okayama, a giant rodent from South America “enjoyed a hot bath filled with aromatic yuzu citrus fruit,” a tradition that is “usually enjoyed by humans.”
It’s been snowy, too. On Friday, record snowfall was observed in parts of central Japan, including nearly 19 inches in the coastal city of Toyama. A bus driver there helped shovel a street to make way for motorists.
The weather has also brought winter beauty.
On Friday, as weather officials in Japan warned that an approaching winter storm threatened to cause avalanches and power outages, people in the southern prefecture of Fukuoka visited a giant statue of a reclining Buddha had been elegantly dusted with snow.
Youmi Kim reported from Seoul and Mike Ives from Hong Kong. Amy Chang Chien contributed reporting from Taipei, Taiwan.