The Record-Breaking Extreme Drought in Yunnan Province, Southwest China during Spring–Early Summer of 2019 and Possible Causes


  • In spring and early summer of 2019, Yunnan Province experienced the most severe seasonal drought on record, with days of extreme drought area exceeding 105 km2 far more than normal. Consistently, the precipitation in each month from February to June is over 30% less than normal, and about 50% less in the most severe drought period (April–June). The rainy season in Southwest China (SWC) started on the third pentad in June 2019, which is the second latest in history. The rainy season in Yunnan started on 24 June, which is the latest (29 days later than normal). On the contrary, the onset of the South China Sea summer monsoon (SCSSM) is abnormally early. The lag time between the start of the rainy season in SWC and the onset of the SCSSM in 2019 is 7 pentads, which is the largest since 1961, much longer than the climate mean (less than 1 pentad). The present study analyzes the possible reasons why the rainy season came extremely late and the drought disaster persisted and intensified after a much early SCSSM, at both seasonal and subseasonal timescales. The abnormally late onset of the rainy season and the second greatest potential evapotranspiration (PET) since 1981 are the direct reasons for the persistent drought. Statis-tical results show that the water vapor from southwest of Yunnan in April–June contributes more than that from the east at the seasonal scale. In April–June 2019, however, the southern branch trough (SBT) was abnormally weak, the large and strong anticyclonic wind anomaly prevailed over the Bay of the Bengal (BOB), and the meridional water vapor transport to Yunnan was weak. At the subseasonal scale, the weaker SBT lasted the longest, and the strong convection over the BOB came up late despite of an early onset of the SCSSM, which resulted in reduced low-level moisture convergence in Yunnan and development of drought prior to the SCSSM onset. From the onset of SCSSM to the start of rainy season in SWC, the SBT and meridional water vapor transport from the BOB were still weak, and the water vapor was mainly transported into the coastal area of South and Southeast China rather than Yunnan. After the start of the rainy season in SWC, the SBT was still weak. This led to less moisture transport in the westerlies to the west of Yunnan and the persistent extreme drought. Both the statistical results and case analysis indicate that the stronger Australian high in spring and early summer of 2019 was associated with the abnormally strong anticyclone over the BOB and the always weak SBT. In sum, the anomalous weakness of SBT played a critical role in the extreme drought occurrence and persistence in Yunnan of Southwest China in 2019.
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