Stormy Weather

If you come and visit us in Shanghai, or even if you come to visit someone else (though not at least popping in to say hi might be a bit anti-social) you might need to know if there’s a storm coming. Why? Well, because based on our two months here on the alluvial plain of the Yangtze River delta (one for the Geography fans there) we’ve had three different typhoon warnings and, unlike when these things are forecast by British daytime TV, all three have come and hit us. Before I continue, I should clarify: they haven’t ‘hit’ us per se, it’s been more of a gentle sweep across the face than a full fist to the nose…but still, it’s good to be aware that it could happen. Incidentally, if you are my mother and reading this, don’t worry. ‘Typhoon’ sounds bad, and no doubt it IS bad when it really hits, but by the time the storm system makes its way up the coast to Shanghai (which is technically ‘South’ China but really is further north than you might think) it has lost most of its power, and certainly all of its danger.

Shanghai – there it is.

The only real danger we have been in so far is that the walk to school might leave us looking like a rat from a drain; it’s not ideal but it’s not threatening either. It also makes for some very moody art-studentesque photo opportunities when driving through the city.

Like something from ‘Metropolis’, isn’t it?

The problem is, though – how do you know it’s game time? Weather warnings aren’t unusual, and nor is rain at this time of year, so what are the key things to watch out for when there’s a storm front coming in? Here is our potted guide:

  • You might get a text.

Once you’ve got a Chinese mobile number, get ready to feel popular…because lots of other people will have it as well. We get text messages from mysterious numbers quite regularly, and of course they are all in Mandarin, so that our inbox looks something like this:


Now I can say the some basics in Mandarin, but I’m not up to the Enigma code that is my text inbox. So while it’s nice that ‘they’ (and I really honestly don’t know who ‘they’ are here, but they text quite a lot…) get in touch to let me know there’s a storm coming, it doesn’t always help unless you run your texts through Google Translate, and even that doesn’t always clear things up…

Couldn’t agree more.

So that’s not much of a heads up. More telling, by far, is the appearance of these…

  • The umbrella stands appear!

The rain here is not like British rain. It’s bigger, heavier, and lasts a lot longer. So when you go out in it, you’d better have an umbrella. Having said that, I’ve walked to work in the rain, with an umbrella, and I arrived absolutely soaked through, so maybe this is just bad advice. But when it rains, you can’t get a taxi for love nor money, although admittedly I’ve only ever tried paying for taxis with one of those things so far. You simply cannot get a taxi when the weather is bad, which is ironic since that’s obviously the time you want one most. Why – I don’t know, but there it is. So – get an umbrella, accept the fact you’re about to get wet, and then get on with it. When you arrive in the lobby of our block there are two hints that the rain is about to strike. One, the red mats are out to absorb some of the water that will be running off you when you get back, and two, one of these has appeared.

It’s a device that bags your umbrella for you! It has a little slot for small umbrellas, one for bigger umbrellas, and it safely encases your saturated brolly in a handy plastic bag so that you don’t leak all over the lift on your way back home. Then, the next day, they’re gone. I don’t know who puts them there, I don’t know who takes them away, but I’m very grateful for their help.

  • The trees get loud.

Shanghai isn’t necessarily the greenest city in the world, being as it is so developed and built-up; but it is a lot greener than you might imagine. Jinqiao particularly has something European about it. The streets remind me of Munich in some ways, in that they’re tree-lined, beautiful, nice to walk on, full of shops, wide and enjoyable. There’s the driving, of course, which really doesn’t remind me of Munich, but more on that some other time. So, walking to and from work is a very pleasant experience (particularly once you get onto BiYun Lu – again, more about this some other time) but once you get there, you will notice an odd sound in the air. ‘Crickets?’ you think. No. Near enough though – it’s Cicadas.

Jinqiao. Despite the odd angle, you can see the greenery! (Thanks to Google images for this one)

For those of you who don’t know, Cicadas are sort of bug things who provide an invisible (or at least very well-hidden) presence in the trees around school. They chirp, not unpleasantly, throughout their days, and then they die and fall out of the trees. I don’t know much else about them, other than what I can find on Wikipedia, which you can also find quite easily, but I don’t think I need to know more. They make a noise…and when there’s rain on the way, the noise intensifies. You know that scene in EVERY movie where there’s an earthquake and all the birds, cats, dogs, etc all know it before the humans do? Well, stand outside our school when there’s rain on the way – the Cicadas increase their volume to the point where it’s almost quite intimidating.

Incidentally, here is a picture of a Cicada. I didn’t take it, because I’ve never seen one, but here is one anyway. Ugly, aren’t they?


  • It starts raining a bit.

When it starts spitting, you probably have 4-5 minutes before you will get absolutely soaked. It’s not much of an early warning system, but it’s all you’ll get. Shanghainese weather does not float like a butterfly; it stings like an angry, angry bee. Here is a picture from inside our apartment reception block. We had gone out for a snack, and on the way back we realized it had started spitting. Less than three minutes later – it looked like this:


Last time we had a typhoon over, it arrived with impressive speed. Here’s a couple of pictures from our balcony taken less than 24 hours apart. 24 hours later, the view had reverted to its original form.


  • You will get told.

This sign is up in our lobby at the moment.


Typhoon Megi is on the way. It’s not to be taken lightly; it’s a category three storm that has claimed 8 lives and caused nearly $50m of damage to the areas it’s hit already. However, it will have lost its most potent power by the time it arrives with us and so while the weather will be unpleasant, we’re not in any danger. There’s more information on the typhoon warning system here if you’d like to know more about it.

So if you come and see Shanghai during this time of year, you’re probably going to get wet. Bring a coat!




Author: PS

English teacher in Shanghai.

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