China

Coronavirus epicentre of Wuhan struck by extreme weather events

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The Yangtze in Wuhan as record torrential rainfall caused flooding. Photo credit: Xinhua / Xiao Yijiu.

By Anders Lorenzen

The central Chinese city of Wuhan, which has become world-famous for all the wrong reasons in recent months as the unfortunate epicentre of the COVID-19 virus outbreak at the heart of our current global pandemic, has just experienced more calamity; this time in the form of extreme torrential rainstorms. 

Battered by thunderstorms and rain

Many places in China is currently experiencing a prolonged period of heavy rain. This Monday, the city, which sits on the Yangtze river, was battered by thunderstorms and torrential rain for several days and between Sunday and Monday, a record 426mm fell, submerging many roads and forcing it to raise its flood alert and emergency flood response levels from Level III to Level II – this is the second-highest point on the four-tier scale. Data from the Ministry of Water Resources showed water exceeding warning levels at more than 50 locations.

The torrential rains went on to batter Chongqing in the southwest to Shanghai on the east coast and the provinces of Zhejiang, Anhui and Jiangsu all declared “yellow alerts”.

Higher than usual seasonal rainfalls

Chen Tao, a senior forecaster with the China Meteorological Administration (CMA) said on Monday regions along the Yangtze could see as much as 400 mm of rainfall in the next three days. He warned that small and medium-sized rivers could see an elevated risk of mudslides and inundation of farmland, “Heavy rainfall may be the first step in a chain of disasters,” he said according to CMA’s website. 

Just last week, CMA officials had warned that June this year had seen 13.5% higher rainfall than is the seasonal norm and that occurrences of torrential rain and thunderstorms were 43% higher than the 2017-2019 averages. 

Back in March, the authorities had warned Wuhan and other flood-prone cities on Yangtze’s middle reaches that they were likely to face higher levels of rainfall this year.

The Mayor of Wuhan, Zhou Xianwang promised crucial flood defence work would not be affected by the coronavirus outbreak. The city was last affected by devastating floods on the Yangtze in 1998.

The role of climate change

While it is still too early to say to which degree extreme weather events such as this are caused by climate change, the events match the long-term projection that scientists have warned we can expect in a warming world. Additionally, it is important to understand that even if a single weather event is not caused specifically by climate change, it can heavily contribute to the severity of that weather event when it does take place.

 

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