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WEATHER

Climate change made German floods ‘more likely and more intense’

Climate change made the deadly floods that devastated parts of Germany and Belgium last month up to nine times more likely, according to an international study published Tuesday.

Climate change made German floods 'more likely and more intense'
The devastation caused by the flooding in Ahrbrück, western Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Thomas Frey

At least 190 people lost their lives in severe floods that pummelled western Germany in mid-July, and at least 38 people perished after extreme rainfall in Belgium’s southern Wallonia region.

Using the growing speciality of attribution science, climate experts are increasingly able to link manmade climate change to specific extreme weather events.

To calculate the role of climate change on the rainfall that led to the floods, scientists analysed weather records and computer simulations to compare the climate today – which is around 1.2 degrees Celsius warmer due to manmade emissions – with the climate of the past.

They focused on one- and two-day rainfall levels, and found that two particularly hard hit areas saw unprecedented precipitation last month.

In the Ahr and Erft regions of Germany, 93 millimetres (3.6 inches) of rain fell in a single day at the height of the crisis. The Belgium region of Meuse saw a record-breaking 106 mm of rain over a two-day period.

READ ALSO: ‘We’re full’: German waste centres tackle mountain of post-flood debris

They calculated that the floods were between 1.2 and nine times more likely to happen in today’s warmed climate, compared to a scenario where no heating
had occurred since the pre-industrial era.

Such downpours over Germany and the Benelux region are now between 3-19 percent heavier because of human-induced warming, according to the study, organised by World Weather Attribution.

“Climate change increased the likelihood (of the floods), but climate change also increased the intensity,” said Frank Kreienkamp, from the German Weather Service (DWD).

Friederike Otto, associate director of the University of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute, said that the floods showed that “even developed countries are not safe from severe impacts of extreme weather that we have seen and known to get worse with climate change”.

“This is an urgent global challenge and we need to step up to it. The science is clear and has been for years.”

READ ALSO: Climate change – Germany says ‘time is running out’ to save the planet

‘Wake-up call’

By analysing local rainfall patterns across Western Europe, the authors of Tuesday’s study were able to estimate the likelihood of an event similar to last month’s floods occurring again.

They found that similar events could be expected to hit any given area about once in 400 years at current warming levels.

This means several events on the scale of the German and Belgian floods are likely across Western Europe within that timeframe, they said.

“It was a very rare event,” said Maarten van Aalst, director of the International Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre.

“On the other hand it has already become more likely than before and it will become more likely in the future.”

The scientists said that they focused on rainfall in this study as river level data was missing after several measurement stations were washed away in the floods.

Van Aalst said the study should be a “wake-up call for people”.

“The increase in risk that we found in this study is something we need to manage about flood risk management, about preparedness, about early warning systems,” he told journalists.

“Sadly, people tend to be prepared for the last disaster.”

READ ALSO: Germany knew its warning system wasn’t good enough. Why wasn’t it improved?

By Patrick GALEY

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WEATHER

Germany on alert for heavy thunderstorms

Many parts of Germany were on alert on Friday as a deluge of rain, hail and storms were forecast.

Germany on alert for heavy thunderstorms

The German Weather Service (DWD) issued an orange level-three storm warning across a large part of the country on Friday. 

Forecasters said isolated thunderstorms were expected early in the day, mainly affecting a strip from the Mosel and Main rivers to the Erzgebirge region.

From noon, the situation was set to get worse.

The DWD predicted “heavy thunderstorms spreading to NRW (North Rhine-Westphalia) and Rhineland-Palatinate with increased risk of severe weather”.

Forecasters said “extremely heavy rainfall of around 40 litres per square metre” was expected in a short time in some areas as well as “large hailstones of up to five centimetres and gale-force winds with speeds of between 100 and 130 kilometres per hour”.

The German Weather Service (DWD) storm warnings on Friday morning.

The German Weather Service (DWD) storm warnings on Friday morning. Screenshot: German Weather Service

The DWD said isolated tornadoes were not being ruled out.

On Friday afternoon, the thunderstorms were set to move further eastwards, and in the evening there could also be severe storms in the south of the country with the potential for heavy rain and hail.

Temperatures on Friday in Germany will range between 20C at the coast, up to 27C in the centre and a very muggy 34C on the Upper Rhine.

A storm in Stuttgart.

A storm in Stuttgart. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/Andreas Rosar Fotoagentur-Stuttgart

Storms in western Germany

Heavy thunderstorms moved across western Germany on Thursday, but the damage was less severe than feared.

READ ALSO: Weather – Germany braces for ‘extreme storms’

However, there was disruption to travel, including on train services from Germany to the Netherlands. Late in the evening, Deutsche Bahn reported that international long-distance trains between Amsterdam, Cologne and Frankfurt were running again without restrictions.

On the line between Cologne and Wuppertal, delays and cancellations were also expected on Friday. Long-distance lines were also affected, Deutsche Bahn said. 

There was also heavy rainfall. In Hamburg, a flooded underground car park had to be pumped out by emergency services. 

Meanwhile, a lightning strike sparked a roof fire in Zellingen near Würzburg. The family was able to leave their home and nobody was injured.

Flood alerts

The North Rhine-Westphalia State Office for Nature and the Environment warned that localised flooding could occur in areas affected by heavy rain, and water levels could rise significantly on Friday.

Due to the warning of heavy rain and hail, all schools in the Ahrweiler district in Rhineland-Palatinate were to remain closed on Friday.

Residents were urged to keep listening to weather forecasts as well as checking warning apps like Katwarn and Nina. In the Ahr valley, 134 people were killed and thousands of homes destroyed in severe flooding in July 2021. Many people are still living in temporary accommodation.

Overnight and into Saturday, the storms are expected to move east.

The DWD said storms and heavy rainfall was expected around the Danube river. 

Temperatures will fall slightly – on the coast it should reach 14-18C, while it is likely to be around 20-25C elsewhere in Germany.

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