World weather: 2016’s early record heat gives way to heavy rains

John Vidal

theguardian – The record-breaking heat of the first six months has turned to severe seasonal flooding across Asia in one of the strongest monsoon seasons in many years

Indian villagers salvage logs of wood brought by floodwaters. The Brahmaputra river has burst its banks in many places and has been at danger levels for weeks.

Indian villagers salvage logs of wood brought by floodwaters. The Brahmaputra river has burst its banks in many places and has been at danger levels for weeks. Photograph: Anupam Nath/AP

In India, the Brahmaputra river, which is fed by Himalayan snowmelt and monsoon rains, has burst its banks in many places and has been at danger levels for weeks. Hundreds of villages have been flooded in Bihar, Assam, Uttar Pradesh and other northern states.

Some of the heaviest rains in 20 years have forced nearly 1.2 million people to move to camps in Assam. Floods have submerged around 70% of the Kaziringa national park, home to the rare one-horned rhino which was visited by Prince William earlier this year.

“The situation is still very bad. We are taking measures to help people in every possible way,” the Indian forest minister, Pramila Rani Brahma, told Reuters.

In the state of Bihar, 26 people have died, nearly 2.75 million people have been displaced or affected, and 330,000ha of land inundated. Many major rivers are still flowing at or above danger levels.

In China, the summer monsoon which started in June after a series of heatwaves is said to have caused $22bn of damage so far. State officials say it has killed more than 500 people, destroyed more than 145,000 homes and inundated 21,000 sq miles of farmland.

Around 500,000 people were last week still displaced in the hardest-hit central Chinese provinces of Henan and Hebei. According to the Chinese ministry of civil affairs, 125,000 people were in urgent need of basic assistance.

This monsoon season has been one of the strongest in China’s recent history, with 150 towns and cities reportedly suffering record rainfall. The Yangtze river basin has been particularly hard hit, with 22 inches of rain falling in 24 hours last month at Wuhan, the Hebei state capital.

The city, which is downstream of the Three Gorges dam and protected from flooding, was inundated after its drainage system and flood controls failed. Much of the damage is thought to have occurred because the city’s rapid expansion in the past 20 years filled in many small lakes and wetlands which used to store water.

Elsewhere, Nepal has been lashed by torrential monsoon rains, flash floods and landslides. The government says 14 of the mountainous country’s 75 districts have been affected by floods, 54 people have died and many major rivers are running at dangerous levels. Tens of thousands of Nepalese are still living in tents following devastating earthquakes last year.

The army has been deployed to repair dams and helicopters are being used to distribute food and medicines to homeless people who have taken shelter on roads and in upland areas.

Meteorologists say that the 2016 Asian monsoon is one of the strongest in many years, and has been intensified by the El Niño natural phenomenon which sees Pacific water temperatures rise and leads to droughts and severe weather worldwide.

The summer heatwaves that have affected much of the Middle East, north Africa and north America have slackened in the last few days.

“At the [north American] heatwave’s peak on July 22, almost 124 million people in north America were under heat-related warnings or advisories. Additionally, high overnight low temperatures meant little relief from the oppressive heat,” said the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO).

The WMO has set up a committee to examine whether a 54C temperature recorded in Kuwait in July has set the new highest temperature for Asia, as well as for the entire eastern hemisphere.

Climatologists at the WMO said they expected more heatwaves because of climate change. “The length, frequency and intensity of heatwaves will likely increase further during this century, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,” said the agency.

But they said it was likely that only a weak “La Niña” will follow the strong El Niño phenomenon later this year. La Niña is the opposite of El Niño and is marked by cooler temperatures worldwide.

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