A man ties a boat to a pier as Typhoon Muifa approaches, at Yueqing bay in China's Zhejiang province on September 13, 2022.

Tens of millions of people across swaths of eastern China were bracing for floods, torrential rains and towering waves on Wednesday, as the most powerful typhoon of the season so far made landfall and headed toward the densely populated city of Shanghai.

The typhoon landed on the coast near the archipelago of Zhoushan in the evening after authorities in China’s eastern province of Zhejiang ordered ships to return to port, shuttered schools and evacuated tourists from nearby islands. The typhoon brought strong winds of nearly 160 kph.

The winds are likely to last for several hours, as well as significant accumulated rainfall, and the risk of disaster is high, the Central Meteorological Observatory said.

Widespread rainfall of 50-200 mm (2 to 8 inches) is likely, with other local areas reaching more than 350 mm. Waves of up to 5 meters (16 feet) are expected near Shanghai, China’s busiest container seaport.

The Central Meteorological Observatory issued its first red alert – the highest level of typhoon warning – for the year across swaths of the country’s eastern coast.

“Every storm is different, but this one is heading to a major population center,” CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said. “Many city streets will flood due to the widespread impervious surfaces and torrential rainfall. Also, because wind speeds increase with height, the urban skyscrapers could sustain some significant wind damage on higher floors.”

Passing through Hangzhou Bay, it will make landfall again tonight along the coast from Jiaxing in Zhejiang to Pudong, in the greater Shanghai area, the Central Meteorological Observatory said.

“Typhoon Muifa will be the fourth typhoon to make landfall this year and the first in East China,” CNN meteorologist Mike Saenz said. “The storm will make landfall with winds equivalent to a Category 2 Atlantic hurricane, far exceeding the first three typhoons of the season.”

The human-induced climate crisis is not necessarily increasing the frequency of typhoons and hurricanes overall, but is making the likelihood of strong, destructive ones much higher, studies show.

Suspended port operations and canceled flights

The typhoon has already disrupted economic activity in China’s east. Shanghai suspended some operations at its ports, including Yangshan terminal and others, from Tuesday evening and halted all operations on Wednesday morning, the Shanghai International Shipping Institute said.

China Southern Airlines said it has canceled 25 flights at Shanghai airports on Tuesday and plans to cancel 11 more on Wednesday.

About 13,000 people from islands and tourist sites near Zhoushan have been evacuated, state television said. Nearly 7,400 commercial vessels sought shelter in Zhejiang’s ports, including Zhoushan, Ningbo and Taizhou, while passenger ship routes across the province were suspended from noon, state media said.

Rain fell at The Bund in Shanghai as Typhoon Muifa edged closer on, September 13, 2022.

The three cities and Shanghai together have a population of 42.26 million.

The Zhejiang government ordered all fishing vessels to return to dock before noon. Ningbo, Zhoushan and Taizhou ordered schools suspended on Wednesday.

All flights at the airports in Ningbo and Zhoushan have been cancelled for Wednesday, flight data platform Variflight told Reuters.

Weather authorities said Muifa’s centre was about 490 km (304.5 miles) southeast of the Zhejiang city of Xiangshan. The typhoon will move northwest after hitting land and gradually weaken, the Central Meteorological Administration added.