- Tourists gawk at the torrents gushing out from the Xiaolangdi Reservoir on the Yellow River, at the reservoir's viewing platform, in Jiyuan, central China's Henan Province. (Xinhua, Miao Qiunao) (Photo: Associated Press)
The unreal photo above is not the result of the horrible, fatal, pigs-in-a-boat-inducing floods occurring right now in China, although it is related. Each year, heavy rains wash so much sediment into the Yellow River that it begins to grow in height; on average, the river rises by about 4 inches annually on its ever-expanding bed of silt. As a result, the water exerts extra pressure on riverbanks and dams and creates a threat of sudden floods in nearby cities.
So what the Chinese do is open the floodgates at reservoirs and allow the resulting barrage of water to sweep away the sediment downstream. That’s what’s happening in the photo, taken Tuesday at Xiaolangdi Reservoir in the country’s central Henan Province. For locals, it’s probably much better than anything on TV. View it in glorious full size here.
Meanwhile, the country is struggling to swim out of a sinkhole created by weeks of heavy rain. Sodden houses are collapsing upon their owners and roaming mudslides are sweeping people away. Chinese authorities report at least 175 people killed, 86 missing and 1.6 million more displaced by the deluge. In Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province, about three feet of water built up in the town center after a storm on Tuesday.
China’s landscape is primed for flooding because a recent enduring drought has hardened the earth, allowing flash floods to coalesce easily. You can see the drought and flood conditions in the below model from NOAA (hi-res). At left, yellow and brown patches indicate areas that are particularly arid, while at right the total rainfall from June 3 to June 15 is depicted in blue: