Frightening New Extremes from Germany to China Demand Strong Actions

By Yuanchao Xu 24 August, 2021

Record-breaking extreme weather events in Germany & China - what do they mean? CWR's Xu explains

Two back-to-back extreme events occurred in Germany & Zhengzhou - different but share “record breaking”; caused hundreds of deaths & economic losses in the billions of dollars
China's climate risk index has moved from 4.3 to 6.8 & it knows it; growing intensity of extreme weather not a problem just for China but the world as per IPCC AR6
Fierce and/or long-lasting storms are challenging our existing infrastructure & emergency plans - time to face the reality of new extremes & adapt by futureproofing them

Last year, we wrote an article discussing the concept of return period for extreme weather, in which we expressed our concern over the fact that the climate is moving to greater extremes. However, we did not expect it to happen so soon. This July, two back-to-back extreme events occurred separately in Germany and Zhengzhou city, China.

Although it is difficult to directly compare these two extreme events due to differences in area, terrain, climate characteristics and infrastructure, etc., they share a common word, “record breaking”.

Record breaking floods: Germany vs China

According to kachelmannwetter, a German weather portal, 15 precipitation records were broken during the event. The highest precipitation in 24 hours reached 153.5mm in Köln-Stammheim, nearly doubling that in 2017 (95mm), out of more than 76 years of records at the weather station.

Baizhai region in Zhengzhou experienced a whole year’s rainfall in just 4 days

However, you will be even more shocked by the rainfall statistics in Zhengzhou. According to Henan Meteorological Service, the rainstorm in Zhengzhou lasted four days with accumulated precipitation of 452.6mm on average, out of which Baizhai region recorded the highest at 906mm. To put that in context, Zhengzhou’s average annual precipitation is 641mm so some regions, e.g., Baizhai, experienced a whole year’s rainfall in just four days.

In total, ten weather stations in Zhengzhou recorded historically high 24-hour precipitation during the event. Moreover, the highest hourly precipitation was an astonishing 201.9mm (from 4pm to 5pm, 20 July), breaking the hourly precipitation record (198.5mm) of not only Zhengzhou, but the entire mainland.

There were 177 deaths in Germany & 292 deaths in Zhengzhou

These extremes are astounding – no wonder these fierce and/or long-lasting storms are challenging our existing infrastructure and emergency plans, which has already resulted in scary consequences. The above two heavy rainfall events have resulted in 177 deaths in Germany and 292 deaths in Zhengzhou, not to mention the economic losses of billions of dollars.

Unfortunately, this year’s “record-breaking” is still going on. At the time of writing this article, Hubei province, China and Japan are seeing new precipitation records being set.

China more aware of the risks it will face

As a country with complicated terrains and diverse climate characteristics, China has pointed out relevant risks in its annual update for climate change. On 4 August 2021, the China Meteorological Administration (CMA) published the Blue Book on Climate Change in China 2021. It states that China is sensitive and will be significantly impacted by climate change with temperatures rising faster than the global average (see chart below).

China’s climate risk index has moved from 4.3 to 6.8 & its aware of it

Records from 1961 to 2020 show that precipitation and extreme weather have been increasing in terms of both frequency and intensity. Overall, China’s climate risk index has moved from 4.3 (average from 1961-1990) to 6.8 (average from 1991-2020).

Everyone will likely face higher risks = time to adapt

Certainly, this is not a problem just for China, but the whole world. IPCC has given a broader view about climate risks on a global basis in the Physical Science Basis of AR6 published on 9 August 2021. As indicated by IPCC projections, both the frequency and intensity of extreme weather will increase with rising global temperatures as the chart shows.

Furthermore, urban areas will be more vulnerable to climate extremes due to their unique interaction with the climate system such as heat islands. This is important to consider for both developed countries facing urban infrastructure maintenance pressure and developing countries designing cities for higher urbanisation.

It’s not just China – the world must face the reality of new extremes and must adapt

The impact of climate change has become more and more material. Worst case scenarios might be the reality next time, and not just a scenario drawn up on paper. To avoid being surprised by the frightening consequences of global warming, it is necessary for us to face the reality of new extremes and adapt by futureproofing existing and new infrastructure designs/emergency plans.

After all, it’s better to be safe than sorry.


Further Reading

  • Counting the Costs of Floods in China – With China in the midst of one of its worst flood episodes in history, Asit K Biswas & Cecilia Tortajada look at the significant social and economic costs of floods, and what can be done about them
  • Too Big To Fail! Protect At All Costs – Multiple policy innovations have been unleashed to protect the Yangtze River as it is too big to fail – corporates and investors need to get on top of the YREB to avoid regulatory shocks
  • Blue City Water Quality Index – Building on their successful Blue Map mobile app, IPE takes it up another notch with the new Blue City Water Quality Map. Hear from their Shen Sunan on which cities are leading and which are lagging
  • Confronting Storms & Climate Risk In HK – Typhoons Hato and Mangkhut have wreaked havoc in the Greater Bay Area but Dr. Faith Chan from the University of Nottingham Ningbo believes these climate risks can be confronted, with Hong Kong leading the way
  • Pearl River Delta: 5 Water Must-Knows – China’s Pearl River Delta generates 9% of GDP but water challenges lurk behind the dazzling economic success. Don’t know what these are? China Water Risk’s Feng Hu shares 5 water must-knows for the region
  • China Water-nomics – Will China’s economic development be hampered by limited water resources?  The very existence of the Three Red Lines signals that China can’t keep developing the way it has. Read on for why GDP will be capped at 5.7% given China’s water-nomics

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Yuanchao Xu
Author: Yuanchao Xu
Yuanchao uses his analytical proficiencies towards the assessment and visualization of water risks for China Water Risk. Prior to joining, Yuanchao was based in Europe completing the Erasmus Mundus Master Program where he specialsed in hydro-informatics and water management. He applied his skills in climate forecasting and water resource modelling to the EUPORIAS project with DHI (Danish Hydraulic Institute) which resulted in a conference paper on seasonal climate forecasting. Building on this work, he went on to develop hyfo, an open-source R programme for climate scientists and modellers to analyse and visualize data. Yuanchao’s bachelor degree was from the China Agricultural University where he specialized in heat energy and power engineering. During his time there, he also patented a testing instrument for hydraulic machinery. He has studied and worked in Beijing, Nice, Newcastle and Copenhagen.
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