By Wang Qian
BEIJING, Aug. 15 (Xinhuanet) -- Meteorologists have labeled this summer the hottest since nationwide records began in 1951, with nearly half of China's population sweltering in a prolonged heat wave.
A record-breaking 44 C was registered on Sunday in Xinchang, Zhejiang province, and the National Meteorological Center issued an orange alert for a record 21st straight day.
Meteorological authorities use a four-tier, color-coded weather warning system, with red being the most severe, followed by orange, yellow and blue.
"On Aug 6, the heat reached a peak, affecting more than 700 million people in 19 provinces and regions," said Wang Youmin, a researcher with the China Meteorological Administration's National Climate Center.
As of Wednesday, eight of the worst-affected provinces, including Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Jiangxi, had recorded an average maximum temperature of 35.6 C since July, with temperatures at 477 weather sites setting a record, the National Meteorological Center said.
Climatologist Li Weijing said, "With a background trend of global warming, extreme events like abnormally hot summers and cold winters will become frequent."
The high temperatures have prompted several authorities to issue public warnings, with the heat causing dozens of deaths, severe drought and challenging water and power supplies.
In Shanghai and Zhejiang, at least 30 people have died because of the heat since July, while hundreds have been hospitalized.
As of Monday, more than 60 million hectares of farmland had been affected by severe drought, and nearly 8 million people were facing drinking water shortages.
Zhang Fanghua, chief weather forecaster at the National Meteorological Center, said that after Thursday, temperatures will fall gradually in southern China and rainfall will increase in Guizhou and Hunan provinces, where severe drought is expected to ease.
She said the center will downgrade the heat alert from orange to yellow on Thursday.
However, northeastern China has been battered by thunderstorms, with damaging wind gusts and hail.
The State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters said severe flooding, not seen since 1987, hit Heilongjiang province in the past week, posing a great threat to public safety.
The headquarters asked the authorities to stay alert and watch water levels on the Songhua and Nenjiang rivers.
On Tuesday, two teams of experts were sent to the Inner Mongolia autonomous region and Jilin province to help prepare for potential rainstorms.
The National Meteorological Center has forecast heavy rainfall for Inner Mongolia, Jilin and Heilongjiang before Friday.
(Source: China Daily)