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Extreme weather threat grows, but China can cope: CMA director
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This year China has faced greater risks of being hit by extreme weather such as drought, floods and typhoons than at any time in the past decade due to climate change, Zheng Guoguang, Director of the China Meteorological Administration (CMA), said during an interview with on September 24.

Zheng cited frequent typhoons that have hit Zhejiang Province, in east China, with total economic losses exceeding 13 billion yuan (US$1.7 billion) as examples. More than 30 people died and 50 remained missing after a rainstorm hit east China's Shandong Province on August 18, with estimated economic losses at 73.6 billion yuan (US$9.73 billion). Heavy rainstorms also hit the cities of Urumqi, Chongqing, Xi'an and Beijing. The worst rainstorm in over 50 years caused heavy flooding on parts of the Huaihe River.

Wipha, the 13th tropical storm of the year, hit Zhejiang on September 18. "However, effective preparations and accurate weather forecasts helped to greatly reduce the number of casualties. Only seven people died from landslides triggered by the heavy rain and such low casualties have been rare for such severe storms," said Zheng. "Economic losses from Wipha are estimated at about 8 billion yuan (US$1.06 billion), much less than that from Typhoon Saomai last year (more than 19.6 billion yuan or US$2.61 billion)."

Since 1998 when the Yangtze River experienced a historically large flood, the central government has invested heavily in the national meteorological observatory and forecasting infrastructure construction. "China's meteorological satellites were able to track Wipha every 15 minutes" (compared to the one hour frequency of previous storms), helping to chart its movement, Zheng stated.

"Moreover, we have imported 112 sets of up-to-date meteorological Doppler radar system from the United States that accurately monitor airflows among atmospheric layers, thus improving weather forecasting and our disaster early-warning capabilities," he said. "Such accurate forecasting is a basic premise for being able to effectively guard against the most violent typhoons."

The central government has also invested huge funds in developing the country's meteorological satellites over the past decades, Zheng said. To date, China has launched four polar orbit meteorological satellites and four geostationary ones. A fifth geostationary satellite is expected to be launched next year.

Meanwhile, the country is constructing a new generation meteorological satellite receiving and broadcasting system, Zheng said, adding: "Telecommunications services, the Internet, radio and TV departments should work together to ensure that people can receive instant meteorological early-warning information. For example, we have built maritime meteorological warning facilities in Zhoushan of Zhejiang Province, Dongshan of Fujian Province, and Shidao of Shandong Province to provide fishermen with instant, free meteorological information."

Zheng agreed that a recent rat scourge around Dongting Lake and an outbreak of algae in Taihu Lake could be blamed on climate change. "Because of unusually high temperatures and low rainfall around the Taihu Lake area this year, the lake's water volume has greatly reduced. At the same time, the density of zinc, nitrogen and phosphorus increased comparatively, easily leading to an outbreak of algae. The high temperatures and drought around Dongting Lake also created conditions for the rat scourge." 

The average temperature in July this year in China was 1.4 degrees centigrade higher than in normal years, and the highest ever recorded. "High temperatures also lead to thunder, lightning and consequently frequent outbreaks of forest fires," he explained. For example, fire ravaged 16 sq. km. of the country's largest forest zone on northeast China's Greater Hinggan Mountains in mid-September. An initial investigation showed the fire had been triggered by lightning.

Statistics from CMA showed that 19,982 accidents involving lightning strikes occurred in 2006 across the country, claiming 717 lives and injuring 640 people. Lightning had claimed 403 lives by July 27 of this year, killed 109 in August and 147 in the first 18 days of September.

"Meteorological departments should regularly test lightning-preventive facilities and disseminate general information among the public," said Zheng. In early July, the Ministry of Education and the emergency management office of the State Council jointly launched a campaign to provide 420,000 high schools and primary schools nationwide with cartoons and illustrations that taught students how to avoid lightning strikes.

Returning to his original theme, the CMA Director said that China should learn from the advanced experience and tap the efficient technologies developed by Western countries in the fields of meteorological forecasting.

Zheng said that his administration was working on a nationwide plan to combat the impact of extreme weather conditions. "The plan, which runs until 2020, will focus on disaster warning, information release and emergency response, technological support, legislation, the setting of standards and public education."

Zheng noted that the experience of dealing with the 2003 SARS outbreak has taught the CMA and other government departments to develop instant response systems for unexpected emergencies.

"Meteorological departments have created emergency plans to deal with unexpected meteorological disasters. Regarding global warming, such emergency plans have provided a good warning basis for people to deal with expected incidents."

Responding to the charges made by some Western media blaming developing countries (especially China) for damaging the environment via greenhouse gas emissions, he stated that the chief offenders were actually the developed countries.

"They have discharged greenhouse gases unrestrainedly over the past 50 years, when global warming became clearly evident. To date, the per capita greenhouse gas emission volume generated by developed countries is still comparatively large. Developing countries started later in the race for industrialization. The per capita greenhouse gas emission volume is four tons annually in China, or a quarter of that of the United States. So, it is the developed countries who should be taking the lead in reducing greenhouse gas emissions."

All About Extreme weather Global warming Tropical storm

( by Li Jingrong, September 26, 2007)
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