04 Jan 2024, 12:03
Benjamin Wehrmann

Winter floods in Europe fit climate change models predicting more rain – researchers


The winter floods in large parts of Germany and neighbouring countries that were caused by weeks of constant rainfall fit well into climate models that predict an increase of precipitation in winter as a result of global warming, climate researchers told newsletter Table.Media. “What we see here fits well into the patterns derived from the climate models,” said Fred Hattermann from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). As warmer air absorbs more moisture and water management concepts in the country are not yet adapted to changing weather patterns, river overflow and saturated soils have let large areas in western and central Germany become submerged throughout December and early January.

High water temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean that had already caused droughts and heavy rain in southern Europe and northern Africa during the summer of 2023 would now show their effect also in northern Europe, Hattermann added. “Water cycles are changing in line with climate change, which is why our old benchmarks no longer apply.” He stressed that this would require more coherent planning and more resolute implementation of adaptation and protection measures, including flood forecasting models, evacuation plans, insurance schemes, and protective infrastructure construction, such as dykes.

Climate researcher Friederike Otto from Imperial College London said the floods “are no natural disaster,” but rather a consequence of political choices. “There are no clear numbers yet, but it’s a clear sign of climate change,” she argued, adding that increased rain volumes during winter in Europe are among the most studied and best understood weather phenomena. Data by Germany’s Meteorological Service (DWD) indicate that rain volumes during winter have increased by about 25 percent across Germany since the 1880s.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz planned to visit regions hit by flooding in central Germany on Thursday, after a first visit to affected areas in the west of the country at the end of last year. Together with environment minister Steffi Lemke, Scholz planned to meet with disaster response crews and examine the scale of damages in the state of Saxony-Anhalt. Germany earlier this week applied for emergency response assistance by the EU, which was granted promptly and included equipment and personnel support from other countries.

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