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China deploys cloud-seeding planes and cuts power consumption as record heatwave takes its toll | China

China is scrambling to alleviate power shortages and bring more water to the drought-hit Yangtze River basin while battling a record-breaking heatwave by seeding clouds, using aid funds and finding new sources of supply.

For more than two months, baking temperatures have disrupted crop growth, threatened livestock farming and forced industry in hydropower-dependent regions of the Southwest to shut down to ensure electricity supplies to homes.

China has repeatedly warned it faces an increase in extreme weather events in the coming years as it tries to adapt to climate change and rising temperatures, which are likely to be more severe than elsewhere.

A villager refuels at a water distribution point in Luoping Village, southwest China's Chongqing Municipality.
A villager refuels at a water distribution point in Luoping Village, southwest China’s Chongqing Municipality. Photo: Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock

The current extreme heat is likely stemming from a “special case” of high pressure from the western Pacific Ocean spreading across much of Asia, said Cai Wenju, a researcher at Australia’s national scientific research institute CSIRO.

China’s heatwave has lasted 64 days, the longest since full records began in 1961, state media said, citing data from the National Climate Center. High temperatures in the Sichuan Basin and much of central China are forecast to continue through August 26.

On Wednesday, China’s southwestern province of Sichuan said it would ration power supplies to homes, offices and shopping malls, after already ordering makers of energy-intensive metals and fertilizers to curb operations.

In what appears to be an official call to reduce electricity consumption, government agencies have been asked to set air conditioners to no lower than 26C (79F) and use the stairs instead of elevators, the Sichuan Daily said.

Fountains, light shows and commercial activities after dark are to be suspended, he added.

On Wednesday, the central province of Hubei was the latest to unveil an attempt to induce rain by sending planes to blast the chemical silver iodide into the clouds.

Other Yangtze River regions have also launched cloud seeding programs, but because cloud cover is too thin, operations in some parched areas have remained on standby.

Power shortages have also prompted several companies in the sprawling Chongqing region bordering Sichuan to say they would halt production.

According to a state media report, China’s Vice Premier Han Zheng visited the state-owned grid company on Wednesday and said further efforts are needed to ensure power supplies to residents and key industries and prevent power outages.

China should speed up projects to improve electricity load management and promote joint operation of coal power and renewable energy, Han said.

As part of the drought relief efforts in Zigui County in Yichang, Hubei Province, staff members carry out artificial rain seeding.
Staffers carry out artificial rain seeding in Zigui County, Hubei Province, Tuesday as part of drought relief efforts. Photo: China Daily/Reuters

Hydropower accounts for about 80% of Sichuan’s electricity capacity, but dwindling water flows on the Yangtze River and its tributaries led to difficulties in meeting rising air-conditioning needs as temperatures soared to 40C and above.

Average rainfall in Sichuan is 51% less than in previous years, according to state-run Xinhua News Agency, which cited the provincial branch of the state grid.

Some reservoirs have dried up after water from major rivers fell by half, he said.

The drought across the Yangtze River Basin also affected drinking water for rural people and livestock, as well as crop growth, the Ministry of Water Resources said in a statement.

She called on drought-affected regions to draw up water continuity plans, with measures such as temporary water transfers, developing new sources and expanding pipe networks.

To boost downstream supply, China’s largest hydropower project, the Three Gorges Dam, will increase water discharges by 500 million cubic meters over the next 10 days, it said Tuesday. The water flow there this week was about half what it was a year ago.

Some drought-affected livestock have been temporarily relocated, the Ministry of Finance said this week, pledging 300 million yuan ($44 million) in disaster relief.

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