Aug 19, 2022 - Energy & Environment

China issues nationwide drought alert amid extreme heat

A view of the riverbed revealed after the water level dropped in the Yangtze River in Yunyang county in southwest China's Chongqing Municipality Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022
A view of the riverbed after the water level dropped in the Yangtze River in Yunyang county in southwest China's Chongqing Municipality Tuesday, Aug. 16. Photo: RAO GUOJUN/ Feature China/Future Publishing via Getty Images

China issued its first national drought alert of the year this week amid more than two months of record-breaking temperatures and below average rainfall, Chinese state media reports.

Why it matters: The "yellow" alert is the third-highest on China's four-tier system and comes as central and southwest regions are facing some of the highest temperatures ever recorded.

Driving the news: The district of Beibei, north of Chongqing in the southwestern region of the country, hit 113°F (45°C) on Thursday, the highest reliable temperature ever recorded outside Xinjiang.

  • A record-breaking 262 weather stations tied or broke their highest temperature on record during the long-running heat wave, which has increased in intensity during the past week, per China News.
  • At least 244 cities across China could experience temperatures above 104°F (40°C) on Friday and more than 400 additional cities could see temperatures above 98°F (37°C), CNN reports.
  • The Poyang Lake in central China's Jiangxi province has shrunk to a quarter of its normal size for this time of year and some 66 rivers in 34 counties in southwestern China have dried up, Reuters reports from state media.
  • Rainfall in Chongqing, in the southwestern region of China, is down to 60% of average, per Reuters.

Threat level: This heat wave has set records for its geographic footprint, with the largest-ever area with high temperatures above 104°F (40°C) —527,029 square miles, beating the old record of 299,615 square miles, according to state media.

  • The new record is equivalent to the states of Texas, Colorado and California combined.
  • Numerous cities exceeded 111.2°F (44°C), China News reported. Temperatures this high are an acute public health threat.
  • The extreme heat and drought are affecting the global supply chain, as factories shut down after the Chinese government ordered more electricity to flow to residential areas. Hydropower production has been cut due to low water levels.
Computer model projection showing temperature anomalies for August 20, 2022, in eastern China.
Computer model projection of temperature departures from normal across eastern China on Saturday, Aug. 20, 2022. The red colors show warmer than normal temperatures. (Tropicaltidbits.com)

Context: Research sh0ws that human-caused global warming significantly raises the odds, severity and longevity of heat waves. Chinese state media cited climate change as a main cause of the extreme heat and drought.

A recent study, for example, found that global warming made a UK heat wave 10 times more likely and at least 7°F hotter than it would have been in the absence of greenhouse gas emissions.

What to watch: Dry weather and low rainfall is expected to continue for the next three days and forecasters expect the extreme heat to continue for another week, according to state media and computer model projections.

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