Floods return as heatwave continues

On 16 July, while US climate envoy John Kerry was visiting China, the air in Xinjiang’s Turpan Depression hit 52.2C, breaking the national temperature record. Meanwhile, the surface temperature in Turpan’s Flaming Mountain scenic area reached 80C.

Wang Yawei, an official from the China Meteorological Administration, warned that high temperatures would persist in the Xinjiang Basin, western Gansu, and western Inner Mongolia. Temperatures are expected to range from 35 to 38C, with some areas possibly exceeding 40C. 

Adding to the concerns, we are now in China’s flood season. Historical data reveals a pattern of widespread heavy rain during the second half of July and first half of August, often leading to flooding. 

The torrential rain disasters in Beijing (21 July, 2012), Xingtai, Hebei (19 July, 2016), and Zhengzhou, Henan (20 July, 2022) all occurred during this period.

“Since the onset of this year’s flood season, the national average rainfall has been 288mm, 10.6% less than the same period in a normal year,” said Wang Yawei. “However, the occurrences of extreme and intense localised downpours have been more prominent.”

Such downpours have caused displacement and disruption in various regions. In the south-western city of Chongqing, heavy rains killed 15 people and affected 130,000, Xinhua News reported on 5 July. 

Sichuan province was severely impacted, with 461,000 people affected and more than 85,000 forced to evacuate to safety, according to Xinhua.

Heavy rain can often also lead to geological disasters such as landslides. Yu Haifeng of the Ministry of Natural Resources highlighted a 86.4% decrease in geological disasters compared to the same period last year, down to 665 cases in the first half of the year. 

“The number of dead and missing persons decreased by 48.1% compared with the same period last year”, said Yu. He did not, however, give specific figures. 

Yu stressed the importance of monitoring densely populated areas at night. “According to statistics in recent years, a large number of geological disasters occur during heavy rainfall at night, which makes it difficult to relocate people to safe places in time.”

Under the influence of Typhoon Doksuri, parts of Zhejiang, Fujian, Jiangxi and Guangdong are set to experience heavy rainfall from 25 to 29 July. 

The Ministry of Natural Resources has initiated a Level III response for the four provinces. That means local authorities will pay close attention to the typhoon’s path and evolution, provide emergency shelter, and prepare emergency supplies. Experts will also be dispatched to these provinces to help guide the local authorities in implementing precautionary measures and to provide technical support.

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