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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

What temperatures can we expect in Germany this week?

Parts of Germany will see another heatwave this week as temperatures soar.

What temperatures can we expect in Germany this week?

The German Weather Service (DWD) has predicted that the mercury will climb in some regions of to around 34C this week. 

“After low pressure ‘Karin’ gave parts of Germany rain, sometimes in large quantities, high pressure ‘Piet’ is now back in pole position,” said meteorologist Lars Kirchhübel of the DWD.

This high pressure zone will dominate the weather in large parts of western and central Europe over the coming days, the weather expert said, adding that it will reach Germany too. 

On Monday temperatures remained fairly cool across the country after a weekend of showers, but they are set to climb over the course of the week, particularly on Wednesday and Thursday. Forecasters predict it could reach 32C in Stuttgart and 33C in Cologne on Thursday. Locally, temperatures could reach 34C. 

However, from the Oder and Neisse rivers to the Erzgebirge mountains and southeast Bavaria, denser clouds and some showers are to be expected. This is due to a high-level low pressure system over the Balkan region, according to forecasters. Short showers are also possible in the Black Forest.

“In most of the rest of the country, high ‘Piet’ will be able to hold its ground,” said Kirchhübel.

READ ALSO: Heavy rain in Bavaria swells rivers, but flooding avoided

At the end of the week, thunderstorms are forecast but temperatures are expected to remain high. 

August in Germany ‘too dry’

According to the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, August as a whole – apart from a few areas in eastern Germany – will be too dry compared to the multi-year average.

The Black Forest, the High Rhine and the Allgäu to the Bavarian Forest, however, are not expected to have any major problems due to the high rainfall of the past few days.

“Looking at Rhineland-Palatinate, the southern half of Hesse, the western half of North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Franconia shows a different picture,” said Kirchhübel. In the last 30 days, only about 10 percent of the usual level of precipitation fell in some places.

“At some stations, no precipitation at all has been measured in August,” added Kirchhübel, referencing Würzburg as an example.

Rainfall at the weekend caused the water in the Rhine river to rise slightly. In Emmerich, the water level reached a positive value again after the historic low of the past few days: in the morning, it showed three centimetres – an increase of six centimetres compared to the previous day.

The water level also rose by several centimetres at the other measuring points in North Rhine-Westphalia: in Cologne, the level rose to 80cm and in Düsseldorf to 38cm.

READ ALSO: Damaged freighter blocks traffic at drought-hit Rhine

Despite this encouraging trend, the Waterways and Shipping Authority said it did not expect a huge improvement in water levels in the foreseeable future due to more hot weather coming.

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