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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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8 of the coolest places in Germany to visit on hot summer days

If you've had enough of the hot weather in Germany, here are a few places you can go to cool down (and discover more of the country).

8 of the coolest places in Germany to visit on hot summer days

Let’s face it: some of us are just not built for the heat. So when temperatures in Germany climb to the late 20s, above 30 – or even just under 40C – there is only one place we want to be: the fridge. 

But there are a few other spots where you can seek shelter from the sweltering heat. With temperatures this week set to climb above 30C in some parts of the country, here’s a look at the areas you can stay cool in and see the sights of Germany. 

READ ALSO: Weather – Germany sees record temperatures

Swim in the sea

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that temperatures are usually cooler by the coast thanks to the sea breeze. 

So we’d recommend heading to a coastal resort in Germany to cool down. At the popular Baltic Sea islands like Rügen, temperatures rarely climb above 25C which is more manageable than the extreme heat that often hits the inland regions. 

READ ALSO: Which regions in Germany have the best (and worst) weather?

Best of all, the Ostsee water temperature is around 17-18C in June, July and August, and it even drops below 15C from September. Perfect for those who like a refreshing dip.

Alternatively you could head to the North Sea coast or islands like Sylt or Juist. The water there is usually a few degrees cooler than at the Baltic Sea. 

A swimmer bathes in the Baltic Sea near Timmendorfer Strand in Schleswig-Holstein.

A swimmer bathes in the Baltic Sea near Timmendorfer Strand in Schleswig-Holstein. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Molter

Get lost in the Oppenheim cellar maze (Kellerlabrynth)

One way to escape the heat is to explore what Germany has to offer below street level. Oppenheim in Rhineland-Palatinate has an amazing network of cellars that people can check out with guided tours. Also known as the ‘city under the city’, visitors can descend several storeys down to a depth of 500 metres, and learn all about the history of the cellar system which dates back hundreds of years.

The temperature is a constant and cool 17C so there’s no chance of overheating. 

The cellar labyrinth in Oppenheim (Rhineland-Palatinate) under the old town

The cellar labyrinth in Oppenheim (Rhineland-Palatinate) under the old town is a great place to cool down and get a history lesson. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Fredrik von Erichsen

Head to the Dechen Cave (Dechenhöhle) in the Sauerland

One of the most beautiful caves on display in Germany, the Dechenhöle in the Sauerland’s Iserlohn in North Rhine-Westphalia is well worth a visit. 

Around 360 metres of the 870 metre long cave have been arranged for visitors to explore, and the light shows look mesmerising. The cave was discovered by two rail workers in 1868 who dropped a hammer into a rock crevice. When they were searching for the tool, they discovered the entrance to the dripstone cave. 

The temperature of the caves is around 10C all year round so it’s ideal for cooling down. In fact, you’ll probably need a jacket.

The illuminated The Dechen Caves in March 2022.

The illuminated Dechenhöle in March 2022. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd Thissen

Visit a salt mine (Salzbergwerk)

The Salzbergwerk Berchtesgaden is the oldest active salt mine in Germany dating back to 1517, but it’s also a unique experience for tourists deep in the Bavarian Alps.

Hop on a miners’ train and travel 650 meters into the mountain, where you’ll find a large salt cathedral and a miner’s slide. The experience includes 3D animations depicting the mining of salt, as well as a boat trip across the underground salt lake. 

READ ALSO: Nine of the best day trips from Munich with the €9 ticket

Explore Berlin underground

If you want to cool down, and learn all about the German capital’s history, dive into Berlin’s underworld and walk through the tunnels and vaults, as part of tours by Berliner Untervelten E.V.

A jackets or a cosy jumper is recommended: the temperature is usually between 8 and 12C.

Explore the Berlin U-Bahn out of the heat.

Explore hidden parts of the Berlin U-Bahn and underground system of tunnels out of the heat. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Monika Skolimowska

Drop into the ice cellar (Eiskellar) in Altenberge

This museum is the former ice-storage and fermentation cellar of the old Beuing Brewery in Altenberge. It showcases the history of the small town in the Münsterland region, and has an eerily beautiful setting. It was once one of the largest underground refrigerators in Europe with temperatures of around 8-10C.

READ ALSO: How to explore Germany by train with the €9 ticket

Take a dip in a very cold lake

Getting into any water is a great way to cool down during the hot summer months. But you could take it a step further and head to a very cold lake. 

Funtensee is a karst lake (which means it formed after caves collapsed) on the Steinernes Meer plateau in the stunning Berchtesgaden National Park, and the area is known for low temperatures. In fact, the coldest temperature ever recorded in Germany was on December 24th, 2001, when the mercury dropped to -45,9C at the Funtensee measuring station.

Luckily, it’s not that cold all year round but the water is still pretty chilly in the summer months at around 17 to 18C.

A view of the cold Funtensee.

A view of the cold Funtensee. Photo: picture alliance / dpa-tmn | Florian Sanktjohanser

Meanwhile, the water temperature at Frillensee, also in Bavaria, doesn’t rise above 10C even in summer. Just dipping your big toe in very cold lakes is enough to cool off.

Climb (or take a cable car) up Germany’s highest mountain

Playing in snow and ice while others sweat? Yes, it’s possible, way up on the Zugspitze glacier, which is part of Germany’s highest mountain, standing at around 2,962 metres above sea level. We recommend taking a tour, which runs from the Sonnalpin glacier restaurant to the edge of the ice on the Northern Schneeferner. The tours are a free service from the Bayerische Zugspitzbahn.

People enjoy stunning weather on the glacier at the Zugspitze in May 2021.

People enjoy stunning weather on the glacier at the Zugspitze in May 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sven Hoppe

Visitors can take a train from Garmisch-Partenkirchen, or the station at Eibsee lake, which runs through the 4.5-km-long Zugspitze Tunnel before hopping on a cable car. If the mood takes you, you could also check out Germany’s highest church on the Zugspitz Plateau. The Maria Heimsuchung Chapel is a great place to reflect after a day of climbing and exploring the mountain.

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