China: storms ‘have affected 200 million’

July 31, 2007 at 12:58 pm | Posted in Britain, China, Climate change, Extreme weather, Floods, Severe weather, Storms, UK | Leave a comment

This story by Jane Macartney in Beijing writing in the Times Online today provides another context for Britain’s recent floods:

China climate change storms ‘have affected 200 million’

The degree of human misery is unimaginable. Weather can cheer or ruin lives, especially when unexpected severe conditions occur.

Chinese people could be forgiven for hearing about recent record-breaking floods in northern and then southern and central England and dismissing them as insignificant compared with the situation in China, where (unlike in the UK) floods are an annual threat to lives and livelihoods.

I deliberately avoided any reference to climate change in my post title, despite the Times Online use of that term, because I think it is all too easy to attribute extreme weather conditions to climate change these days. My humble view is that such events are likely to become more frequent as climate change progresses, and may be taken as indicators of the trend toward higher average global temperatures. For Brits, at least, it is ironic that rainfall has become a hot-topic this summer, after temperatures have been the main climate change indicator and talking point for many (people and years), and bearing in mind that precipitation in the UK is usually greater during the winter than the summer.

Several recent reports tie Britain’s recent floods with global warming, and go on to quote a study by the Met Office Hadley Centre and Environment Canada that I have not yet found.  However, here is a relevant excerpt referring to that study by one of its authors, in the Met Office news release on Record-breaking rainfall figures for England and Wales, with my emphasis added:

Recent Met Office research undertaken in partnership with Environment Canada has shown, for the first time, a link between human activity and global rainfall patterns. Peter Stott, climate scientist at the Met Office Hadley Centre said: “This latest study cannot make the link between climate change and what we have experienced so far this summer. However, with a warmer climate there could be an increase in extreme rainfall events despite the expected general trend toward drier summers.”

Meanwhile, just as central and southern Europe has suffered from extended heat waves, according to Reuters, clouds are now being seeded to alleviate severe drought in central China:

Drought hits 1.2 million in central China

So, even if the amount of rainfall globally were to increase in proportion to higher global average temperatures, what appears to be grabbing headlines this summer is a polarised effect of weather patterns: with further widespread examples of fairly arid places becoming hotter and drier while pretty damp locations become saturated and inundated with water. And, gradually, desert regions seem to be expanding and encroaching on previously green and pleasant lands …

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