Extreme weather in China highlights climate change impacts and need for early warnings

24 August 2022

Extreme weather – record-breaking heatwaves, severe drought, and deadly rainfall – have battered China since June. The summer of extremes – in China as in Europe – has underlined the importance of the WMO community’s commitment to Early Warning and Early Action and reinforced the need for the ongoing campaign to provide Early Warnings for All in the next five years.

Extreme weather – record-breaking heatwaves, severe drought, and deadly rainfall – have battered China since June. The summer of extremes – in China as in Europe – has underlined the importance of the WMO community’s commitment to Early Warning and Early Action and reinforced the need for the ongoing campaign to provide Early Warnings for All in the next five years.

The high socio-economic and environmental cost of the extreme weather has also highlighted the vulnerability of the world’s most populous nation to climate change impacts and the need for urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“The weather and climate situation in China is severe and complex. Extreme temperature and drought in the South and high precipitation in the North. The superimposed situation of drought and flood has brought challenges to disaster prevention, mitigation and relief work,” said WMO Assistant Secretary-General Dr Wenjian Zhang. “We are clearly witnessing the impacts of climate change.”


In terms of the intensity, impacts, scale, and duration, the regional heatwave in southern China which started 13 June was the strongest since complete meteorological observation records started in 1961, according to the China Meteorological Administration.

By 15 August, the heatwave broke the 2013 record of 62 days. National Meteorological Center (NMC) of China has issued 30 Red high temperature red warnings. 

Official climate forecasters predict the current heatwave will only begin to subside on August 26.

Drought in China

More than 200 national observatories broke through the historical extreme value of the highest temperature.

Some 1 680 meteorological observatories have had of above 35℃ - covering an area of ​​4.5 million square kilometers in China or almost half of the country's total land area.  The incidence of temperatures of above 40℃ has been the largest on record.

A total of 914 national meteorological observatories (accounting for 37.7 percent of the total number of national meteorological observatories in China) have reached the standard for extreme heat wave events, and 262 of them in Hebei, Shaanxi, Sichuan, Hubei, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Fujian, Guangdong, Qinghai and other places equaled or exceeded the historical maximum temperature records.


Since 1 July, most of the provinces and cities along the Yangtze River have experienced low precipitation and long-lasting high temperatures. In some places, precipitation is more than 80% lower than normal, reaching moderate to severe meteorological drought and a high risk of forest fires. Poyang Lake, the largest fresh water lake of China, has entered the dry season ahead of schedule due to hot weather, as shown in this photo from Jiangxi Provincial Meteorological Service.

According to data released by China's Ministry of Emergency Management, the drought disaster alone in July affected 5.527 million people and caused a direct economic loss of 2.73 billion Chinese yuan.

The Ministry of Water Resources of China has launched an emergency response to drought prevention, implemented the "Special Action for Joint Operation of Reservoir Groups in the Yangtze River Basin to Fight Drought and Ensure Water Supply" and increase the outflow of reservoirs to replenish water downstream.

The National Meteorological Centre and Beijing Climate Centre released an orange warning of meteorological drought on 22 August and CMA activated level four emergency responses on 23 August.

Under this emergency state, relevant meteorological departments and provincial meteorological departments like Jiangsu, Anhui, Henan, Hubei, Zhejiang, Fujian, Jiangxi, Hunan, Guizhou, Chongqing, and Sichuan have to implement timely and precise forecast and refined services for the government, related sector and the public. 

Forest Fires

On 22 August, three government departments (the Ministry of Emergency Management, the State Forestry and Grassland Administration, and the China Meteorological Administration) jointly issued the first red color warning of high forest fire danger this year. It is expected that from August 23 to 25, the forest fire danger level in parts of central and southern Chongqing and eastern Sichuan will reach an extremely dangerous level. Strict precautions should be taken, and fire source management should be strengthened to ensure the safety of forest areas.

Experts suggest that local governments should strengthen the management and control of fire sources in forest areas, strictly prohibit the use of fire in forest areas, issue early warning information in a timely manner, strengthen fire prevention popularization, and raise public awareness of fire prevention.

Rainfall and Floods

Heavy rainfall hits northern China

In contrast with southern China, large parts of the North have witnessed unusually heavy rainfall. In July, there were six regional heavy rain events in China, four of which occurred in the North (1.4 more than the same period of the previous year). The daily precipitation of 30 national weather stations exceeded the extreme value in July.

In July, flood disasters occurred in North China (mostly in Heilongjiang and Liaoning Provinces) and West China (mostly in Sichuan and Gansu Provinces). On 18 August, a mountain torrent in Datong Hui and Tu Autonomous County, Xining City, Qinghai Province, caused many casualties.

The National Meteorological Centre forecasts that a new round of rainfall process will batter northern China from 21 to 23 August.

Early warning, early action

On 19 August the China Meteorological Administration convened a special meeting to discuss the provision of meteorological services for flood control, disaster relief and drought management.

Zhuang Guotai, the administrator of the China Meteorological Administration, emphasized the importance of the principle of people first and life first in flood control and drought relief meteorological services.

The meeting outlined three key priorities:

  • Enhancing meteorological monitoring, forecasting and early warning in a timely manner in order to prevent sudden and local meteorological disasters, and to provide drought-relief meteorological services to local governments.
  • To strengthen the early warning and early action by mobilizing responsible government departments and emergency response officers and providing impact-based decision-making support for disaster prevention and mitigation.
  • To increase public risk prevention awareness and skills and disaster preparedness.

Climate policy

Extreme weather events have strengthen public awareness of climate change and support for government measures and strategies to address climate change.

In June 2022, the Chinese government released a new policy document to improve its response to climate change, which it said was not only creating long-term challenges but also made the country more vulnerable to "sudden and extreme" events.

"Climate change has already brought serious adverse impacts to China's natural ecological system, and has continued to spread into economy and society," the government said in its national climate change adaptation strategy.

The new policy document updates China's National Strategy for Climate Change Adaptation, published  in November 2013.

China's Ministry of Ecology and Environment approved the National Strategy on Climate Adaptation 2035 in February 2022.  A separate implementation plan is expected to complement the strategy. All sectors and localities are encouraged to formulate their own adaptation plans.

China's economy and society are at increasing risk from climate change and the country needs to improve adaptation mechanisms and monitoring capabilities at every level of government, according to a new policy document.