Working in the climate and weather sector is genuinely good fun and I really love my job. However, the reality in most cases is that you’re monitoring catastrophic event before, during and after they happen. You are able to watch how governments prepare or ignore the warnings of incoming natural events, which can be heartbreaking to be a bystander for the latter. But then there are other times when cities or regions can be taken completely by surprise; there is no time provided to make any right or wrong decisions.
On July 20th, Zhengzhou, China experienced a massive flooding event that even made my jaw drop. Scenes of cars floating down flooded streets and civilians trapped in subways cars with water up to their chest filters through the news and across social media platforms. However, one of the most surprising factors was the statistics of this event.
Xinxiang, a neighbouring city to Zhengzhou, received 200mm in one hour and a total of 382mm over six hours. That’s absolutely insane. Just to put that into perspective, for reference Dublin—known for its rainy weather—averages 760mm in a year. So in about six hours, Xinxiang accumulated half the amount Dublin receives annually and after three days of rain, the total accumulation came to 617mm (the city’s annual average is 640mm).
View of a motorised raft bridge use to rescue stranded civilians. The Associated Press
At the moment, the death toll rests at 302 and 1.5 million people have been evacuated. The economic impact of the event is estimated at $18 billion, but I can assume this number is going to rise as the secondary impacts are considered. As Henan is the highest wheat producing province in China and produces a high proportion of the country’s corn, the devastation on the surrounding land could be significant. So far, it is estimated that 580,000 hectares (or ~812,000 football fields) of farmland have been affected and this will have an impact not only on national production and trade, but also for the subsidies that will be needed for farmers to survive this event.
View of flooding from above. China Daily via Reuters
What’s happening that causes these extreme precipitation events is quite complex. There are multiple moving parts in the atmosphere that have influences upon each other, but there is one homogeneous trend found around the world that I’ve touched on a few times in the blog series: the storage capacity of water vapour in our atmosphere. As the global average temperature increases, so does the storage capacity of the atmosphere and this is what ultimately provides the opportunity for events like this—the downpour of 617mm in three days—to happen.
When I started this blog series, I had themes mapped out to discuss in order to develop a more holistic understanding of different impacts around the world. However, if you’ve been following along, these topics have been replaced by real time events happening this year. So far, we’ve seen the worst heatwave the North American Pacific Northwest has recorded in recent history, the derecho that ripped apart the Midwest in the United States and now this impressive flooding event in the wheat belt of China. I had planned to dive into the dilemma facing global agriculture in my last few blogs, but my themes will be put on hold to focus in on real-time record-breaking events happening around the world.
My thoughts rest with those impacted by this event.
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