CREDIT: (Credit: AP/ Vladimir Barsukov)
Last month in the Russian Far East, along the Chinese border, “unseasonably heavy rains” fell which caused the largest-scale flooding in Russia’s history. The water has not evaporated or flowed into the ocean — the Russian and Chinese people are still dealing with the consequences of that flooding, as the water slowly moves north toward the Pacific. It recently reached Komsomolsk-on-Amur, a Russian city of half a million people.
There the floodwaters overwhelmed a dam, flowed into 300 houses that housed 900 people, and immobilized the neighborhood. The Amur River is rising almost 6 inches a day, and as of Sunday, the river had reached at least 28.5 feet.
The Amur is known as the Heilong Jiang in China, and there the damage has been even worse. Up to 85 deaths have been attributed to the floods, as well as 1.4 million acres of farmland, with damage estimates in the realm of $1.6 billion.
Really, the only way to get a sense of the scope of the continued flooding is to look at a before-and-after photo.
This NASA satellite image, taken on August 17, 2012, shows where the waters of the Amur River should be in late summer:
CREDIT: (Credit: NASA)
Here’s where things stood on September 8, 2013:
CREDIT: (Credit: NASA)
These are false-color images that depict water as black and plant-covered land as green. The Amur river flows from the bottom-left to the upper-right. Much of the water remains upstream from Komsomolsk-on-Amur, and as it rushes through their city, residents are concerned things will get worse before they get better.
In the first twelve days of August, twelve inches of rain fell on Russia’s Amur and Khabarovsk regions. So far, authorities have evacuated at least 16,000 people and the floods have affected 98,800 people in the region. Seventy-four towns and villages have been flooded, inundating 2,700 residential buildings.
Water levels along the river beat a record that had stood since 1897 — by two full meters as of Tuesday. The Amur is expected to reach 9.1 meters (over 32 feet) this week, which would mean the record would be set another meter higher.
Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin told the AP and Channel One about his visit to the area in August:
The Far East encountered an unprecedented disaster. The local old-timers don’t remember ever seeing a flood of such magnitude when the water rose so high in Khabarovsk, in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, and in the Jewish Autonomous Region. When I was flying over it in a helicopter it looked like an open sea. The only thing that brings you back down to earth is rooftops showing form under the water. This does make you realize you’re dealing with a disaster. The scope of that disaster was just enormous…
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang pledged to work together on flood control and disaster relief just before a meeting of the Summer Davos Forum in China, which starts on Wednesday.
While all we know for certain about these floods is that they are caused by historic rainfall in the region, climate change causes more extreme rainfall events. As National Center for Atmospheric Research senior scientist Kevin Trenberth explained last year, “A warmer climate therefore increases risks of both drought — where it is not raining — and floods — where it is — but at different times and/or places.”
A study last year showed how climate change could be making the jet stream “wavier” which increases the duration of extreme weather events, from heat waves to droughts to floods.
Some in Russia may love the idea of ice-free passage to Russia’s Arctic seaports, but from the current flooding to the heat waves and wildfires of recent years, it’s clear the impacts of climate change are more severe than putting icebreakers out of business.