Aug 22, 2022 - Energy & Environment

China's unrivaled 70-day heat wave

Illustration of a heat temperature map radiating from the stars on the Chinese map.
Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

The extreme heat and drought that has been roasting a vast swath of southern China for at least 70 straight days has no parallel in modern record-keeping in China, or elsewhere around the world for that matter.

Why it matters: Based on recent studies, the question facing climate scientists is how much climate change contributed to this disaster.

The big picture: More than 260 weather stations saw their highest-ever temperatures during the long-running heat wave, according to state media reports.

By the numbers: More all-time heat records fell Sunday, particularly in Sichuan province.

  • Gao reached 110.3°F (43.5°C) while Jianyang and Zigong hit 110.1°F (43.4°C), according to Meteo France meteorologist Etienne Kapikian.
  • The all-time high temperature of 105.8°F (41°C) in Mianyang on Sunday broke the previous record by 4°F, an unusually large margin for such a milestone.
  • On Saturday, Chongqing, whose city center is home to 9 million, saw an overnight low temperature that was a few degrees hotter than its typical August daytime high, at 94.8°F (34.9°F).
  • If verified, it would be the hottest overnight minimum temperature anywhere in China during August, according to weather historian Maximiliano Herrera.
  • In Beibei, the temperature hit 113°F (45°C) on Aug. 19 and 20, the highest reliable temperature ever recorded in the country outside of Xinjiang.

Threat level: This heat wave has also set records for its geographic reach, with nearly 530,000 square miles within China seeing high temperatures exceed 104°F (40°C).

  • This is equivalent to the states of Texas, Colorado and California combined.
  • In China, such a footprint encompasses well over 100 million people.

What they’re saying: "I can't think of anything comparable to China's heat wave of summer 2022 in its blend of intensity, duration, geographic extent and number of people affected,” meteorologist Bob Henson, a contributor to Yale Climate Connections, told Axios.

  • Henson noted the simultaneous extreme heat events and droughts also occurring this summer in Europe, East Africa and the U.S.
  • “We know that when drought happens, a warming climate accentuates the impacts, parching the landscape and allowing temperatures to rise even further. We've seen the drought-and-heat playbook in action across the Northern Hemisphere this summer,” Henson said.

The bottom line: The human and economic tolls from this event are serious and will become clearer with time. For one, the drought and extreme heat are further slowing China's economic growth.

Go deeper