Impacts of the 1997-98 El Niño Event in China

Ye, Qian, Wei-Hong Qian, Ju-wei Zhang, Quan-shen Ge, Jin-Hai He, Zhong wei Yan, Wei Gao, Xiu-lan Wang, Ming-tian Liu and Xiao-dan Liu (2000). Impacts of the 1997-98 El Niño Event in China. Reducing the Impact of Environmental Emergencies through Early Warning and Preparedness in the Case of El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). United Nations University.

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    Author Ye, Qian
    Wei-Hong Qian
    Ju-wei Zhang
    Quan-shen Ge
    Jin-Hai He
    Zhong wei Yan
    Wei Gao
    Xiu-lan Wang
    Ming-tian Liu
    Xiao-dan Liu
    Title Impacts of the 1997-98 El Niño Event in China
    Series Title Reducing the Impact of Environmental Emergencies through Early Warning and Preparedness in the Case of El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO)
    Publication Date 2000
    Place of Publication Beijing
    Publisher United Nations University
    Pages 62
    Language eng
    Abstract China is the largest developing country in the world with a vast territory and nearly 1.3 billion people. Great differences in climate are found from region to region owing to China's extensive territory and complex topography: tropical, subtropical, temperate, plateau and alpine. The major part of China is under the influence of the Asia monsoon. Natural hazards, especially meteorological hazards, such as torrential rains, floods, droughts, typhoons, hail and frost episodes, occur frequently. Drought, flood, typhoon, frost, hail and chill damages are the main climatic hazards that have substantial influence on the country’s social and economic stability. In 1997, people in northern China experienced a very hot and dry summer season. During the 1997-98 winter, extraordinarily heavy snow fell over the Tibetan Plateau and caused great losses of human lives and property. In the summer of 1998, a great flood occurred in the Yangtze River basin, which was ranked as the second greatest flood during the past fifty years. Meanwhile, the greatest flood in the past fifty years occurred in Songhua river basin in northeastern China. Both floods caused total damages of over 350 billion yuan (RMB) (45 billion USD) in property and an estimated 3,000 deaths. After these natural disasters, the causes were investigated thoroughly by a team led by the Ministry of Water Conservancy with officials from different government agencies and scientists from various research institutions. The El Niño event was considered as the one of major factors to be included in the forecasting process in that year. The preliminary results, however, showed that although El Niño has its most significant impacts on climate in tropical regions, its impacts on climate weaken beyond this region. In China, most forecasters believe that El Niño is a strong signal that could be used for predictions of climate anomaly in China in the future. There are mechanisms that are not fully understood about the relationship between El Niño and China’s climate hazards. Historically, scientific research in China on El Niño advanced in four stages. The first stage occurred before 1950. At this stage, no studies were done on El Niño and the Southern Oscillation (SO) and their impact on China because of the weakness of Chinese science and technology as a whole, the lack of reliable scientific observation instruments, and difficulties to obtain any of the limited number of scientific reports and information about El Niño and the SO from other countries. Research topics such as interannual variability of the Asia monsoon and atmospheric circulation, or the interactions of the atmosphere and the ocean were not addressed at that time. The second stage occurred from 1950 to 1980. Beginning in the 1950s, anomalous sea surface temperature (SST) variations (which were related with variations of El Niño and the Southern Oscillation - a relationship still not known in China at that time) and their relationship with global and regional atmospheric circulation began to attract attention from China’s research community. From 1980 to the early 1990s, owing to the global impacts of one of the strongest El Niño events in the 20th century, the 1982-83 El Niño, El Niño study in China entered its third stage. With the successful forecast on the 1998 Great Flood in the Yangtze River Basin, ENSO studies in China blossomed into in the fourth stage. The mention of the El Niño phenomenon first appeared in the scientific literature in China about six decades ago, although it was only considered to be a local natural event (near Peru) without any global impact. Only after the 1982-83 El Niño were the relationships between El Niño and anomalous weather events in China and its impact on China agriculture addressed, but only in meteorological research community. In the early 1990s, the media in China started to cover news on the impacts of the longest series of El Niño events (i.e., 1990-1995) on foreign countries, especially in South America and Australia. The public, however, was unaware of the relationship between the El Niño and their own daily lives, because of the lack of communication between the meteorological community (including weather services, research institutions and universities) and the public. In early 1997, the magic phrase, “El Niño”, finally escaped from the “ivory tower” of the scientific community and became one of the hottest words on various TV programs, national and local newspapers around the country. Becoming so concerned about the impact of extreme climate events on national economic development prospects, President Jiang Zeming and other top government leaders consulted with the China Meteorological Administration (CMA) and the National Oceanic Administration (NOA) for information on El Niño and its impacts during the period of the 1998 great flood from June to August, 1998 in the Yangtze River Basin even though El Niño was already in its decaying mode at that time.
    Copyright Holder United Nations University
    Copyright Year 2000
    Copyright type All rights reserved
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    Created: Fri, 29 Oct 2021, 14:01:26 JST