Tue, Aug 15, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Warming reportedly behind China's killer typhoons

AFP , BEIJING

A worker repairs electrical wires damaged by Typhoon Saomai in the city of Wenzhou, in China's Zhejiang Province, on Sunday.

PHOTO: AP

Global warming is contributing to an unusually harsh typhoon season in China that started around a month early and has left thousands dead or missing, government officials and experts said.

"The natural disasters caused by typhoons in our country have been many this year," the head of the China Meteorological Administration, Qin Dahe, said in recent comments on his organization's Web site.

"Against the backdrop of global warming, more and more strong and unusual climatic and atmospheric events are taking place," he said.

"The strength of typhoons are increasing, the destructiveness of typhoons that have made landfall is greater and the scope in which they are travelling is farther than normal," he said.

The vice minister of the Ministry of Water Resources, E. Jingping, also spoke last week about the unusual ferocity, frequency and earliness of typhoons in China this year.

He said the typhoon season in China normally starts around July 27, but this year the first typhoon hit the southern province of Guangdong on May 18.

"This is the earliest typhoon to hit Guangdong since 1949," he said in a speech.

Natural disasters in China this year have killed 1,699 people and left 415 missing, the nation's Red Cross Society said last week.

More than 1,300 of those died in weather-related incidents from May to the end of last month, the government reported earlier.

Those reports came before the arrival on last Thursday of Saomai, the eighth typhoon of the season and the strongest to hit China in 50 years.

Saomai killed at least 214 people, mostly in the two eastern coastal provinces of Zhejiang and Fujian, according to figures released yesterday.

The president of the Washington-based Earth Policy Institute, Lester Brown said that the weather in China over the past few months was reflective of the worldwide extent of the problem of global warming.

"The emerging consensus in the scientific community is that higher temperatures bring more frequent and more destructive storms," Brown said.

"Our seasons seem to be beginning earlier and ending later," he said.

According to NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the earth's average temperature has risen by 0.8?C since 1970, he said.

But this is only the beginning of what the UN's International Panel on Climate Change believes will be a rise in temperature for this century of 1.4?C to 5.8?C.

"Just imagine what typhoons and hurricanes might be like in the future," Brown said.

Simply put, the storms are caused when warmer oceanic and atmospheric currents interact with cooler currents in tropic and sub-tropical regions, experts say.

Many of the cooler oceanic currents stem from the melting of the polar ice caps that is occurring due to rising global temperatures, said Edwin Lau, who monitors global warming at Friends of the Earth in Hong Kong.

"The hurricanes and typhoons are due to hot air rising... and the hotter the air, the spinning of the hurricanes is faster, picking up more water," Lau said.

Meanwhile, as some areas of China are hit by more typhoons and the resulting floods, other areas are suffering from intense drought, which experts say is another by-product of global warming.

In a landmark report in the mid-1990s, the UN panel on climate change predicted that global warming would leave southern China drenched with more rains, while the north and west of the country would suffer worsening droughts.

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