Climate change made Europe floods more likely, intense: study

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.

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.

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.

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.”

– ‘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.”

At least 21 dead in flooding in US state of Tennessee
Washington (AFP) Aug 23, 2021 – Devastating floods after record rainfall in the southern US state of Tennessee have left at least 21 people dead and at least 20 more missing, local officials said Sunday in what they warned was a preliminary toll.

Tennessee was hit Saturday by what meteorologists called historic storms and flooding, dumping as much as 17 inches (38 centimeters) of rain.

Rural roads, state highways, bridges and hundreds of homes were washed out and widespread power outages affected thousands of people.

In Humpreys County, about 90 minutes from country music hub Nashville, the downpour on Saturday broke a 24-hour rainfall record for Tennessee, the National Weather Service said.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee described “picture of loss and heartache” in Waverly, a hard-hit town of around 4,500 where 20 of the victims died.

“Our hearts and our prayers need to be for those folks in that community, many of them who have suffered not only the loss of their homes but the loss of family members and friends,” he said in a televised press conference Sunday after touring the wreckage.

Police chief Grant Gillespie said the other death was in a more remote area of the county.

Initially, about 40 people were reported missing, but by late afternoon that number had been halved.

“We’re hopeful that we’re getting to the end of that list,” Gillespie told reporters.

Authorities have imposed a nighttime curfew amid efforts to account for the missing.

Gillespie also urged Waverly residents to remain inside after 8 pm because of “problems with a small amount of looting and trespassing”.

Search and rescue operations were continuing Sunday, with workers going from home to home to search for victims or those needing assistance.

The rising water had struck Waverly so quickly that some people were unable to escape, local officials said.

Karen Phair, 61, told local newspaper The Tennessean that Waverly looked like “a war zone”.

Humphreys County resident Rickey Larkin, 62, told the New York Times he and his wife had to cling to a mattress as a life raft after “an ocean” engulfed his home.

“We came about a foot from drowning. I thought we were gone,” he said.

The Waverly Department of Public Safety posted on its Facebook page a list of names of missing people, and asked for the public’s help finding them.

– Missing children –

In Washington, President Joe Biden began an afternoon press conference by expressing his “deepest condolences for the sudden and tragic loss of life” in Tennessee.

“I’ve asked the FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) administrator to speak to Governor Lee of Tennessee right away,” Biden said.

Humphreys County Sheriff Chris Davis told a CNN affiliate that the dead included two toddlers. Davis himself lost a friend to the floods.

“They just went and got one of my best friends and recovered him. He drowned in this,” the sheriff said. “It’s tough, but we’re going to move forward.”

Half a dozen children are among the missing, he said.

Photos posted on social media showed a row of homes nearly submerged in brown floodwater, cars flipped over or piled on top of one another and roads covered in mud and debris.

“The news media has been very focused on what’s happening in other areas – Haiti, Afghanistan, hurricanes coming into the northeast – but I think that we need to understand that the devastation here in Tennessee has been every bit as significant,” said US Senator Bill Hagerty after visiting a flood-devastated school.

The Piney River in nearby Hickman County crested nearly 12 feet (3.6 meters) above its historic record high, a local National Weather Service office said.

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