I am from (and live in) Minnesota, USA. In the summer here it always reaches temperatures in the 90s (F) for periods of time but not every week. The humidity is often high and the dew point often tropical.

My wife is from Guangdong province in the south east region of China. The temperature there most closely resembles Florida, USA. It is usually in the 90s during the summer instead of sometimes. It is always humid and feels tropical.

My wife, her friends and family routinely comment on how incredibly hot it is in China. They say people often don't even go outside because it's so hot. They say it is not like Minnesota, but much worse.

My question then... how? Is this merely perception of growing up in a tropical environment without artificial climate control or is there science that backs up their claims? If our regions are the same air temperature with similar humidity and dew points, I don't understand how it can feel so much hotter there.

  • $\begingroup$ I think we see the same thing each year when the temperature first changes. Living in Florida, the first cold front of the year hits pretty hard. It's also shown by what people wear. But by late winter, 60s are pretty typical, and the first 80s and then 90s are a bit more of a struggle too. So that's perhaps indication it's mental as much as anything (in addition to heat index and the other factors dlb mentioned). $\endgroup$ – JeopardyTempest Jul 26 '16 at 6:11
  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps something not considered often enough is the possibility it's related to recent conditions as well. Such that it feels worse when you've experienced much different temperatures recently, but is less noticeable when it slowly ramps up. Such as is probably true of many human perceptions (sense of smell, pain, noise). So it'd probably feel "worse" in the north when it's in the 70s a lot... and then suddenly flies into the 90s, whereas in Florida, while we do often have some ugly April\May heat, we're still getting eased into them a fair bit as we start tending regularly into the 80s. $\endgroup$ – JeopardyTempest Jul 26 '16 at 6:17
  • $\begingroup$ You Minnesotans do not know what "tropical" is. I grew up in Minnesota but now live in Houston. Dewpoints in the low 60s (e.g., last Thursday, when temperatures in Minnesota reached a record high) are not tropical. You need dewpoints in the mid to upper 70s, or higher, to qualify as "tropical". Temperatures were a bit high the last time we visited relatives in Minnesota. People complained how hot and humid it was. To someone used to truly tropical summer weather, the humidity there was delightfully low! $\endgroup$ – David Hammen Jul 27 '16 at 10:20
  • $\begingroup$ We routinely have dew points in the 70s during the summer. The dew point is 72 right now in fact, and we had 79 last week in the metro. The sources I've seen state tropical dew points are typically after 70. The biggest difference I noticed when I spent a month in China was the dew points were high during their winter too. $\endgroup$ – Eric Majerus Jul 27 '16 at 17:34

A temperature is a temperature but the effect of that temperature is not always the same. Some things that add to our perception include sun intensity, wind, humidity, and simply what we are used to. The Humidex as mentioned by Trevor, or some other forms of heat indexes are attempts to measure how the temperature feels as compared to what it actually is, and its effects on animals and plants, very similarly to wind chill charts in the winter. In Minnesota, you should relate to not all temperatures of -10 being created equal, that how hard the wind is blowing matters too. The temperature is the same, but the cooling effect when the wind is blowing harder is much greater so it feels colder and the damaging effects of the cold can occur much more quickly. The same is true on the other side, with higher heat indexes at the same air temperature, animals and plants can suffer heat damage more quickly.


While perceptions about the climate can have an effect on how we react to our environment, Guangdong and Minnesota are fundamentally different climates altogether. Using the Koppen-Geiger climate classification system, Minnesota is mostly a Temperate Continental (Dfb/Dwb) climate, meaning that is has warm summers and long cold winters, while Guangdong is a Humid Subtropical (Cfa/Cwa) climate with hot and wet summers and a short dry winter. The classification is largely based on monthly average temperatures and precipitations based on climate normals (~30-year periods).

It might be the case that temperatures match up at some points, but based on the classifications/geography of both areas, it would seem that Guangdong experiences more humidity and much longer warm periods, which combined would raise the Humidex (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humidex) above that of Minnesota.

For more information on the Koppen-Geiger classification, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C3%B6ppen_climate_classification


Compare your descriptions of the two climates:

In the summer here [Minnesota] it always reaches temperatures in the 90s (F) for periods of time but not every week. The humidity is often high and the dew point often tropical.

[In Guangdong] It is usually in the 90s during the summer instead of sometimes. It is always humid and feels tropical.

You're saying that sometimes Minnesota is as hot as Guangdong usually is. Thus (based only on this info) Guangdong probably has a higher mean temperature. Assuming there is some variability around that mean, it seems likely that Guangdong also has a higher maximum temperature. Thus, Guangdong might be perceived as hotter.

Cultural factors might also contribute to the perception of difference, such as the type of clothing worn, the prevalence of air conditioning, or the activities that the people in question are typically undertaking in each place.


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