Extreme weather hitting China in May

Various regions of China are experiencing abnormal weather this month, including extreme heat, rainfall and drought.

In some parts of the country, these conditions have followed one another in quick succession, in what are known as “compound events”.

On 6 May, the temperature exceeded 41C in the Changjiang and Lingao counties of Hainan, China’s southernmost island, according to the Hainan Provincial Climate Center. 

A drought has lasted for several months in the southern parts of south-western China, mainly in some areas of Yunnan, and will continue on through May, the National Meteorological Administration predicted.

In early May, heavy rain hit Hunan and Fujian, where Beijing News described it as “pouring water”, and Jiangxi and Guizhou. 

Jiangxi, in central China, seemed to suffer most, with about 10 counties experiencing torrential rain, and a river embankment breaching in Yichun city. About 540,000 people in seven cities in the province were affected by the disaster, and 16,000 people were evacuated, stated Jiangxi’s emergency management department. 

In Fujian, four officials fell into a river after a bridge collapsed and lost contact, reported CCTV (China Central Television).

In the first week of May, 21 rivers burst their banks in Jiangxi and Fujian, statistics from the Ministry of Water Resources showed. Among these, two experienced their largest floods on record.

In the second week of May, northern China experienced very hot weather. Beijing and surrounding provinces and cities, as well as Xinjiang, all reached temperatures above 35C. At the same time, Jiangxi’s government announced that after several days of temperatures hitting 33C, heavy rain is coming again in some areas this week. 

The succession of extreme weathers in Jiangxi is consistent with compound events. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) analysed such events for the first time in its sixth assessment report (2021). Compound events give communities little time to recover, Zhai Panmao, one of the report’s authors, has explained.

In a paper published early this year, some scholars proposed the concept of intraseasonal “compound whiplash event”, meaning an abrupt swing between warm–dry and rainy conditions. Climate change is making such whiplash events more frequent and more intense, particularly in East Asia, the authors found.

The National Fire and Rescue Administration pointed out this week that extreme weather is frequent this year, and said “it is necessary to go all out in flood control and drought relief.”

However, the worst may be yet to come. The National Climate Center predicts that this summer the Central and Eastern Pacific will enter El Niño, meaning the intensity and duration of extreme weather events will likely increase in China.

Read China Dialogue’s earlier report on how climate change exacerbated the 2021 Henan floods.