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Historic Yangtze flooding of 2020 tied to extreme Indian Ocean conditions.

  • Author(s): Zhou, Zhen-Qiang
  • Xie, Shang-Ping
  • Zhang, Renhe
  • et al.
Abstract

Heavy monsoon rainfall ravaged a large swath of East Asia in summer 2020. Severe flooding of the Yangtze River displaced millions of residents in the midst of a historic public health crisis. This extreme rainy season was not anticipated from El Niño conditions. Using observations and model experiments, we show that the record strong Indian Ocean Dipole event in 2019 is an important contributor to the extreme Yangtze flooding of 2020. This Indian Ocean mode and a weak El Niño in the Pacific excite downwelling oceanic Rossby waves that propagate slowly westward south of the equator. At a mooring in the Southwest Indian Ocean, the thermocline deepens by a record 70 m in late 2019. The deepened thermocline helps sustain the Indian Ocean warming through the 2020 summer. The Indian Ocean warming forces an anomalous anticyclone in the lower troposphere over the Indo-Northwest Pacific region and intensifies the upper-level westerly jet over East Asia, leading to heavy summer rainfall in the Yangtze Basin. These coupled ocean-atmosphere processes beyond the equatorial Pacific provide predictability. Indeed, dynamic models initialized with observed ocean state predicted the heavy summer rainfall in the Yangtze Basin as early as April 2020.

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