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Destructive floods in Germany warn Europe of the dangers of warming

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The low-pressure region began to form on July 11 over the area where Germany meets Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Hundreds of miles wide and inflated by the heat in the Netherlands, it had been the hottest June since 1901 absorbing moisture from lakes and wet land throughout Central Europe. Then he sat there for days, ignoring the colossal amounts of rain. Some regions received over 90 mm of rain on July 13 and another 70 mm or more the next day. Reservoirs are filled, saturated sewer systems and streams bounce off their shores.

Soon entire cities were under water. Across the northwestern German states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate, bridges, cars, and homes were taken away. German titles called it a The flood of the century, a flood once in a century. In fact devastating floods have become more frequent in recent decades. But these seem to be the worst in post-war history. In the Rhineland-Palatinate at least 63 deaths had been reported since July 16, twelve of them patients in a home for the disabled. In Germany as a whole the death toll has risen to over a hundred. Hundreds more are missing.

Belgium and the Netherlands are known for their sophisticated ambush and canal systems. However, in parts of the Dutch province of Limburg, where clay-rich soil holds water to the surface, mud and water flowed through the streets a meter deep. The Dutch government declared the province a disaster area and sent in armed forces. In Caumerbeek, an overloaded fish pond sent water being thrown over two medieval windmills. A break in points on a transport canal near Maastricht forced a number of neighborhoods to be evacuated.

Horst Seehofer, Germany’s interior minister, immediately linked the catastrophe to greenhouse gas-led climate change: Every reasonable person should take into account the fact that appalling weather of this density and frequency is not a normal phenomenon in this part of the world. . An official attribution along these lines may not be quick. Floods are more difficult to attribute to climate change than other extreme events, such as the recent heat wave in the Pacific Northwest. Many factors play a role, including rainfall, soil saturation, topography and urban development, which prevents water drainage.

Summer floods are even more complicated. In winter, heavy rains leading to flooding tend to be caused by large-scale weather systems, explains Friederike Otto, a climatologist at Oxford University. But summer rain tends to be generated locally even locally since most climate models do not have a high enough resolution to include them. Climate scientists disagree on whether a warming climate leads to the blocking of events that keep weather systems stuck in one place. And although the storm in Germany was very slow, it is not clear that it was held by a blocking event.

But the warming climate definitely makes the rain heavier. Higher temperatures allow the air to hold more water vapor: for every degree Celsius of heat, the atmosphere can absorb 7% more moisture. Humid air leads to stronger rainfall explosions, which tend to be more destructive. So although the exact cause of each flood is difficult to determine, global warming will produce more of the type of rainfall that leads to flooding.

In Germany, where the campaign for a national election on September 26 is underway, floods are already affecting politics. Armin Laschet, the Christian Democrat candidate for chancellor and prime minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, called for intensified efforts to fight climate change. Mr Laschet has been attacked for his unwillingness to engage in climate policies as demanding as those put forward by other parties.

Germans’ concern for climate and energy policies has grown for years, especially after a series of storms and hot, dry summers that brought damage to the country’s beloved forests and dried up its rivers. The Greens, now the number two party party and a contender to secure the chancellor, can stand to benefit from the floods.

Downstream in the Netherlands, the question was whether the Delta Program, the national flood prevention system, would turn out to be appropriate. The place forms the delta of Meuse and Rhine. As those rivers were erected in Germany, the Dutch water authorities watched anxiously to see how much would come downstream. In some places, large gates were flooded so as not to overload the canals. Elsewhere, pegs were drilled to allow the water to move faster. At 4 a.m. on July 16, the current monitoring station at Meuse in the Dutch town of Eijsden recorded a flow of 3,260 cubic meters per second, the highest since 1911, before it began to fall.

By noon July 16 the rain had finally shifted southward. But the rivers have not yet reached their peaks. Dutch authorities expect that by Monday 19 July the Rhine level on the German-Dutch border will reach at least 14.5 meters above the normal level of Amsterdam, the national standard. This water must be dispersed and discharged into the sea before overloading the lowland cities.

The Delta program was created to handle much larger volumes of water than currently expected. Still, the scale of the emergency made some worry. The rain that is falling now is the kind we had expected to see in 2050, said Patrick van der Broeck, dikgragraf (keeper of the duke) in Limburg. The last serious flood emergency in the Netherlands was in 1995, he continued, and the sense of danger seemed to be ignited by the collective memory.

Floods make it clear that much of Europe is poorly equipped to deal with heavy rains. Despite adequate forecasts, says Hannah Cloke, a hydrologist at the University of Reading, there was a massive split in communication between officials, the media and the public in many affected areas. As a result, citizens took very few precautions and local authorities were poorly prepared. Mrs. Otto agrees: I think people, especially in Germany, have no idea you can die from the weather.

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2/ https://www.economist.com/europe/2021/07/16/devastating-floods-in-germany-warn-europe-of-the-dangers-of-warming

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