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Summer of disaster: Extreme weather wreaks havoc worldwide as climate change bears down

David Pierson, Alice Su and Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

Roughly half the tribe’s 5,600 members live among the towering pines of Klamath County. Many are feeling a sense of loss, Gentry said.

“It doesn’t even look like [how] it was. We lost old Ponderosa pine,” he said. “We’re so tied to the land that it’s going to be devastating to our folks.”

While Gentry longs for rain, the more than 5 million residents of Zhengzhou are desperate for the clouds to leave.

At least 25 people have died in the floods caused by record-high rains that have shocked the nation. Local news and social media users in Henan province posted dozens of images and videos online of cars bobbing in floodwater like apples, harrowing rescues in fast-moving torrents, and pale, soaked flood victims crumpled on subway station floors.

More than 8 inches of rain hit Zhengzhou in one hour Tuesday afternoon, according to the Henan weather agency, and more than 23 inches of rain from July 17-20. That was equivalent to a whole year’s worth of rainfall hitting Zhengzhou in just three days, according to a video posted on the agency’s Weibo page. It was a “once-in-a-thousand-years storm,” the video host said.

Chinese authorities have not mentioned climate change as a factor in the deluge. Nor did they link last year’s flooding across southern China to climate change. But an increase in extreme heat and rainfall events has alarmed scientists.

Last week, Greenpeace East Asia released a report analyzing climate risk from extreme heat and rainfall in urban areas around Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. It found that dense city centers were at highest risk. Extreme heat and extreme rains have increased in all these urban areas over the last 60 years, the report found, though the the overall precipitation picture has fluctuated between periods of heavy rain and drought.

Beijing is heating up the fastest, the report said, with an increase of 0.32 degrees Celsius every 10 years. Shanghai is experiencing the fastest rise in heat waves. Guangzhou and Shenzhen have had 98 heat waves since 1961, Greenpeace found, with 73 of them occurring in the last 23 years.


More than 100,000 people have been relocated from low-lying areas in Zhengzhou. Many flood victims were still stranded and posting requests for help or search notices for missing family members Wednesday amid power outages and poor cellphone connection.

One of China’s major initiatives to combat extreme rain and floods in recent years has been the “sponge city” strategy — reducing the amount of concrete in cities and restoring natural riverbanks and green spaces that can better absorb sudden rainfall. Zhengzhou is a pilot “sponge city.”

In 2018, the city government pledged to spend $8.2 billion by 2020 on “sponge” construction. In June, state media reported that Zhengzhou had eliminated more than 75% of the city’s flood-prone points. But experts said that this week’s rainfall was so intense that the city’s sponge capacities were overwhelmed.

“It’s like a small sponge: If you pour a bowl of water, it can be absorbed. But if you pour a whole bucket, it cannot,” Zuo Qiting, a professor at the School of Water Science and Engineering at Zhengzhou University, told China Science News. “A [rainfall] level of once-every-few-years can be dealt with. But not something beyond that level.”


Pierson reported from Singapore, Su from Beijing and Hennessy-Fiske from Bly, Oregon. Laura King contributed from Washington.

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