Torrential Rain & Deadly Floods Shock Climatologist & Wreak Devastation In Western Europe

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NASA Earth Observatory images by Lauren Dauphin, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey.

More than 100 people are dead and about 1,300 still missing in the wake of extreme rain and flooding western Europe. The torrential rainfall — as much as two months’ worth in two days, amounts not seen in the summer for at least a century — unleashed flooding that stacked cars like children’s toys and drowned residents in their cellars. Electricity was also cut off for 165,000 in western Germany. Extreme precipitation is one of the clearest and most widespread impacts of climate change. Warmer air holds more water, and thus dumps more water when it rains — just as a bigger bucket can hold and dump more water.

“Entire villages are flooded,” Malu Dreyer, the premier of Germany’s Rhineland-Palatinate state, said in a speech to the local parliament. “Houses float away just like that.” The flooding is one in a recent series of events — including heatwaves in the Arctic and Western US — shocking climate scientists who say the climate impacts they have long predicted are coming sooner, and across a greater area than they expected.

“I am surprised by how far [the rainfall] is above the previous record,” Dieter Gerten, who grew up in a village in the affected area and is now professor of global change climatology and hydrology at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, told The Guardian. “We seem to be not just above normal but in domains we didn’t expect in terms of spatial extent and the speed it developed.”

Sources: Flooding: The GuardianAPWashington Post $, New York Times $, France24AFPNBCWall Street Journal $, NPR; Rain intensity: Axios; Power Outages: Bloomberg $; Climate scientists: The GuardianCNN; Photos: Politico EU; Climate Signals background: Extreme precipitation

This is a quick news brief from Nexus Media.

Communities in Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands are reeling after extreme July rainfall swamped parts of Western Europe. Some of the worst-hit areas saw as much as two months of rain within 24 hours—enough to break precipitation records, push rivers to new heights, and trigger devastating flash floods. Nighttime downpours on July 14-15, 2021, proved especially damaging. Many people were asleep when the most intense rain fell, and they were caught off guard as rivers raged, dams failed, and floodwaters inundated homes. News media estimated that 196 people were killed by flooding and thousands more were injured. Hundreds of people are still listed as missing. On July 18, 2021, the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 captured this image of flooding along the Meuse and Roer rivers. As water levels rose, nearly 5,000 people were forced to evacuate from Roermond, a city in The Netherlands near the border with Germany. A dam breach on the Roer contributed to the extensive flooding. While it will take some time for experts to analyze whether this event was influenced by human-caused global warming, scientists have amassed data showing that warming has led to more intense and frequent downpours in many parts of the world. Some researchers and meteorologists have also suggested that warming may be changing the jet stream in ways that make atmospheric “blocking” patterns — like the one that prolonged these downpours — more likely. NASA Earth Observatory images by Lauren Dauphin, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey. Story by Adam Voiland.

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