Powerful Typhoon Fitow slammed into southeastern China on Monday, killing at least five people and forcing the evacuation of more than half a million others.
According to the BBC, officials in Fujian and Zhejiang provinces said the storm wiped out houses, flooded villages and farms, and impacted more than 4.5 million people. The economic damages of the typhoon are already estimated to be more than 21 billion yuan ($3.4 billion).
The government issued a red alert — its highest warning — on Sunday, prompting the evacuation of residents and recall of over 30,000 fishing boats. Typhoon Fitow struck Fujian province with winds of up to 151 kilometers (94 miles) an hour in the early morning hours, then slowed before weakening to a tropical storm, the Associated Press reported.
In addition to the high winds, Fitow brought torrential rainfall, dumping more than eight inches of rain in some areas.
Fitow’s destruction comes just weeks after Typhoon Usagi killed at least 25 people in nearby Guangdong province.
As human activity drives fundamental changes in the climate, events like the typhoons that regularly hit China become more destructive. Very warm waters — up to 86 degrees Farenheit — fueled Typhoon Usagi, adding more energy to the storm.
Rising temperatures also trigger more intense precipitation. As Kevin Trenberth, Senior Scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, explained, “Owing to higher SSTs [sea surface temperatures] from human activities, the increased water vapor in the atmosphere leads to 5 to 10% more rainfall and increases the risk of flooding.”
And as with Superstorm Sandy, rising sea levels contribute to more destructive storm surges.
A 2012 report from China’s State Oceanic Administration found that from 1980 to 2011, China’s coastal sea level has risen by an annual average of 2.7 mm faster than the global average, according to the state-run news site Xinua. Further, “the SOA blames rising sea levels for magnifying the impact of storms around China’s southeastern coast and salt tides in the Yangtze and Pearl rivers in 2011.”
When the government issued a red-level wave warning for Typhoon Soulik in July, Zhang Zhihua, an official with the National Marine Environmental Forecasting Center, told Xinua that “typhoons are becoming more destructive due to climate change.”