Deadly Floods in Germany and Belgium Driven by Climate Change, Study Finds

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 released Tuesday.

At least 190 people lost their lives in the severe floods that hit western Germany in mid-July, and at least 38 people died after extreme rains in the Wallonia region of southern Belgium.

Using the growing specialty of attribution science, climate experts are increasingly able to link human-caused climate change to specific extreme weather events.

To calculate the role of climate change in the rains that caused the floods, the scientists analyzed meteorological records and computer simulations to compare the current climate, which is around 1.2 degrees Celsius warmer due to emissions caused by the man, with the weather of the past.

They focused on the one- and two-day rainfall levels and found that last month there was record rainfall in two particularly affected areas.

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

They calculated that floods were between 1.2 and nine times more likely to occur in today’s warm climate, compared to a scenario in which there had been no warming since the pre-industrial era.

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

“Climate change increased the likelihood (of floods), but climate change also increased the intensity,” said Frank Kreienkamp of the German meteorological service.

Friederike Otto, associate director of the Oxford University Institute for Environmental Change, said the floods showed that “even developed countries are not safe from the severe impacts of extreme weather that we have seen and know are made worse by climate change.” .

“This is an urgent global challenge and we must face it. The science is clear and has been for years. “

‘Wake up call’

By analyzing local rainfall patterns in 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 a given area roughly once every 400 years at current warming levels.

This means that several events on the scale of the German and Belgian floods in Western Europe are likely to occur within that time period, they said.

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

“On the other hand, it is already more likely than before and it will be more likely in the future.”

The scientists said they focused on rainfall in this study, as data on the river level were missing after several gauging stations were washed away by flooding.

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

“The increased risk that we find in this study is something that we have to manage about flood risk management, about preparedness, about early warning systems,” he told reporters.

“Unfortunately, people tend to be prepared for the latest disaster.”


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