Europe’s Recent Heavy Rain and Flash Flooding Directly Tied to Climate Change

Key Points: 

  • At least 125 people have died as a result of the flooding. Thousands more are still missing. 
  • The area received more than a month’s worth of rainfall in less than 24 hours. 
  • Leaders blame this flooding directly on climate change, prompting swift action.

This week’s devastating floods in Europe have left more than 125 people dead and thousands more missing. Unfortunately, the death toll continues to climb as authorities work to rescue people. 

Videos across social media show harrowing visuals of roads buckled and washed away, cars piled on top of each other, and people stranded on the roofs of their homes.

Meteorologists estimate that in just 24 hours, between 4 to 6 inches of rain fell in the area, which is more than a month’s worth of rainfall. 

As authorities handle the widespread devastation, meteorologists, climate experts, and government leaders look at what happened and how climate change fueled the floods. 

Historic Amounts of Rainfall Cause Devastating Floods 

Over the past two days, historic amounts of heavy rain fell across portions of western Europe, with the heaviest rainfall occurring across western Germany and eastern Belgium. 

This caused significant and unexpected flash flooding, specifically across the Ahr Valley of western Germany, whereas seven inches of rain fell in some areas. 

Reports indicate some areas received torrential rainfall in a short duration. In some cases, much of the rain fell within 30-60 minutes. As a result, rivers and streams rapidly overflowed, causing dangerous flash flooding to local communities. Even though some areas only received 2–4 inches of rain, meteorologists said that’s far too much rainfall within a 30-60 minute timespan, give the terrain and proximity to rivers and nearby reservoirs. Meteorologist Jim Bishop said, 

“From a meteorological perspective, this event was forecast days in advance by global models. The event was driven by an upper-level storm system that moved slowly across western Europe and had significant low-level moisture available to produce heavy rainfall in a short period of time. 

From a historical context, significant flash flooding in the Ahr Valley of western Germany of this magnitude may be a once-in-a-century flash flooding event. The most recent flash flooding event in this region of such significant magnitude and impact occurred back in June of 1910.”

This type of extreme flooding is highly unusual for Western Europe, so what’s the cause?

Flooding Fueled by Climate Change

Experts point their fingers directly at climate change. 

“Science tells us this is a clear indication of climate change and that this is something that really, really shows the urgency to act,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told CNN.

Also, in response to the devastation, Germany’s Primer Minister, Angela Merkel, said, “Climate change has arrived in Germany.”

This week’s flooding confirms what scientists have warned against for decades: climate change would cause more extreme weather events, such as heavy rain and flash flooding. 

The Earth’s atmosphere is warming, thanks to greenhouse gas emissions. A warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, which leads to unprecedented rainfall in some cases. Flash flooding happens when rain falls faster than the ground can absorb it. 

Europe’s flooding contrasts the drought they experienced just a few months ago — with historically low water levels on the Rhine in Cologne. While rainfall may seem like a relief after a period of drought, it can have the opposite effect. Since the soil is extremely dry, it can absorb water as efficiently, leading to optimal conditions for flash flooding. 

While government leaders work to address climate change, business owners need to prepare for climate disasters before they happen. 

Read more on how businesses can protect assets and operations before devastating weather events occur. 


Featured Photo by Ria Puskas on Unsplash







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