Europe’s flood disaster: a hard rain’s gonna fall


The mammoth floods spreading down the great rivers of central Europe are a potent reminder that rapid climate change is happening now.


Over the last couple of days of May and the first week of June, torrential rain — as much as half a metre in places — fell over much of the Austrian and German Alps. After a wet spring, the water quickly fed into the rivers that rise in these mountains, triggering floods on a massive scale. In Passau, on the German-Austrian border, a not-so-blue Danube reached levels not seen since 1501. To the north, the Saale in Halle reached the highest levels since records began 400 years ago. Historic floods have inundated large parts of Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland. The cost of damage in Germany alone could already be as much as US$7.9 billion.

In other parts of central Europe, the floods of August 2002 still hold the record. That was reckoned to be a one in a hundred year event. Now we have another 100 year, or perhaps 500 year event coming along only 11 years later. US meteorologist Jeff Masters is in no doubt about what’s going on:

If it seems like getting two 1-in-100 to 1-in-500 year floods in eleven years is a bit suspicious — well, it is. Those recurrence intervals are based on weather statistics from Earth’s former climate. We are now in a new climate regime with more heat and moisture in the atmosphere, combined with altered jet stream patterns, which makes major flooding disasters more likely in certain parts of the world, like Central Europe.

Back in April, I discussed how warming in the Arctic and the dramatic reduction in sea ice was beginning to affect northern hemisphere weather patterns. The jet stream, which normally guides storms quickly from west to east across Europe, has become prone to getting “stuck” in big loops. Weather systems get trapped in the loops, making extreme weather events — floods, heatwaves, cold outbreaks — more likely to happen.

This is an active area of research. Climate scientists are still teasing out the mechanisms that are driving the changes in the flow of weather around the northern hemisphere, but the fingerprints of warming are all over these floods. Stefan Rahmstorf, head of the Potsdam Climate Research Centre in Germany, is one of the scientists working on the issue. He blogged about it last week, and told Masters:

Planetary wave [jet stream] amplitudes have been very high in the last few weeks; we think this plays a role in the current German flooding event.

It’s still early summer in Europe and the Arctic, too early to say if the sea ice is going to melt away to a new record low in September, but the effects of warming in the far North are already being felt thousands of kilometres to the south. How much worse will it get as the ice continues to disappear over the next few years? And just what will it take to get the politicians of the world to pay attention and start urgently cutting carbon emissions? How much economic damage? How many deaths?


  1. Hang on a second, I keep getting told that the planet had stopped warming ages ago, so how can this be? Are you trying to tell me that regardless of what gets published on WUWT, global warming hasn’t stopped?

    Could it be that the tens of thousands of climate scientists that are all part of the greatest scam in history melting the Arctic themselves (probably using bunsen burners) to support their findings? I bet Lord Monckton knows the answers!

    • Would that be Shell or BP that keep telling you the Earth has stopped warming?

      Next question: Who owns the government?

      A. Shell and BP.

    It seems Greenland was affected by the stalling jet stream this winter.
    There was a short fall of *500 gigatons of snow (1 gigaton = 1 billion tons) due to a block in the jet stream, maybe that was were all the rain came from that landed on GB this winter ??
    * 500 GT = the weight 700 billion people, according to one estimate?
    Wiling to be corrected on that.

  3. It is still difficult to judge which on-going disaster will demolish current economic arrangements and bring mayhem. Will it be the unravelling of Fractional Reserve Banking and the various derivatives connected with the bansters’ Ponzi scheme? Or will it be falling off the global net energy Hubbert’s Peak curve in 2014., Or will it be collapse of food production and massive infrastructure damage over the next few years, as climate chaos worsens?

    One thing we can be certain about: politicians won’t even mention any of the above, let alone do anything about any of them to protect the citizens from their effects. Perhaps the politicians know that action had to have been taken 40 years ago to have been effective, and that we are headed straight off the cliff whatever we do now. So they might as well carry on operating at the kindergarten level. After all, numerous positive feedbacks have already been triggered (and none of the climate models factor in the self-reinforcing and mutually reinforcing nature of multiple positive feedbacks).

    A lot of the debate on Nature Bats Last and Collapse of Industrial Civilisation has recently been centred around positive feedbacks and the timing of NTE……. as early as 2030 or as late as 2100?

  4. Oh, it’s all so true, what the writer writes here!

    Yet, will the hundreds of millions of Europeans, of North Americans, of others in East Asia, in South Asia, the Middle East, Africa, in Australia, last not least also in New Zealand, who own and drive their cars every day in and day out now decide to perhaps drive and pollute less?

    Will they consider giving up driving the many polluting cars all over the globe, thus perhaps stopping contributing to all these developments?

    Will the motor industry companies build and sell fewer cars, perhaps? Will they continue to tell people they are working on alternative energy and electric cars, to replace the gas guzzling versions? Will they tell the consumer the truth that such cars may cost a fair bit more than the presently sold ones?

    Will citizens and residents in countries, where coal and oil are used to generate energy and heat, stop using and depending on fossil fuels, will they perhaps decide to vote for “green” parties and tell their governments to change energy use?

    Will Mainland China stop building coal fired power plants, will the US as largest polluter per capita stop allowing its residents to continue to pollute the air with congested traffic on freeways and highways, with smoke and gas from chimneys of power plants and homes?

    Will New Zealanders start waking up and stop driving around all the time, even driving up to the corner dairy to buy a loaf of bread? Will they finally accept they need more public transport and also pay for it?

    I see only a little happen in this direction, and it is mostly in faraway places like in some countries in Europe, only in a few places in the US and other countries. Most do not change their behaviours, most continue as if nothing important is happening, many behave as if there is no tomorrow, so stuff it all, I consume, pollute and waste as I please.

    Sadly the human species appears to be rather selfish and short sighted, only thinking of what individuals want and “need” now, and ignoring what future generations may have to face. Sadly also many young do not think enough of coming generations after them. It is more important to buy the newest gadgets, than to perhaps give consideration to the environment, in which we all live, and which we cannot simply change and replace, like a new consumer item off the supermarket shelf.

    Unless people wake up and change, I fear, much worse needs to happen than such floods in Central Europe or horror hurricanes in the US Midwest.

  5. The Austrian Alpine Club published the results of its annual terminus survey program on April 13, 2013. Out of the 95 glaciers measured, 93 retreated an average 17 meters in 2012, two were unchanged. The outbreaks of cold have not altered the overall pattern of glacier melt in recent years. Viltragenkees Glacier retreat.

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