Dozens of people were killed and even more are missing after torrential rains triggered extreme floods in Germany and neighboring Belgium. While at this point, we can’t say with certainty that the floods were caused by climate change, experts believe these are once-in-a-century type floods — and climate change is known to amplify this type of extreme events.
In the peaceful, wine-growing, hilly Eifel region in Germany, six houses collapsed, and a further 25 buildings are at extreme risk of caving in. At least 70 people are missing, and 44 were confirmed killed already. Belgium is also affected, as is the Netherlands.
Western Europe is not prone to flooding, or any extreme weather events for that matter. But this summer, heatwaves, floods, and even tornadoes seem to be on the table.
“There are people dead, there are people missing, there are many who are still in danger,” the governor of Rhineland-Palatinate state, Malu Dreyer, told the regional parliament. “We have never seen such a disaster. It’s really devastating.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was distraught by the news of the floods. “My sympathy goes to the relatives and of the dead and missing,” she said during a trip to Washington.
The situation is still unfolding, and the full extent of the damage is not yet known. To make matters even worse, the worst may not yet be over — authorities are bracing themselves for more rain today, although drier weather is expected over the weekend.
This level of rainfall has not been seen in one hundred years. Local municipalities have basically seen two months of rainfall in a single day. Meanwhile, high temperatures of over 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) are expected in parts of northern Europe, and the night between Wednesday and Thursday was the hottest in Finland’s history.
While it’s very difficult to link individual weather events to larger climate change shifts, researchers have warned for decades that these shifts will bring more extreme weather events like floods and heatwaves. Even a tornado hit the central European nation of Czech Republic, killing five people in the process.
These once-in-a-century extreme weather events are expected to become more and more common as the new climate normal enters into force. The current climate shifts are driven by man-made greenhouse gas emissions, and will continue to accentuate as long as we continue emitting.
Armin Laschet, the conservative candidate to succeed Merkel as chancellor at a general election in September and the premier of the hard-hit state of North Rhine Westphalia, also pointed this out during a visit to the area:.
“We will be faced with such events over and over, and that means we need to speed up climate protection measures, on European, federal and global levels, because climate change isn’t confined to one state,” he said.