According to news reports, a broad swath of central Europe is suffering severe impacts from major flooding.
In the Czech Republic, over 3,000 people have been forced to flee their homes as raging flood waters threatened both lives and property. Officials in Prague shut down the subway system and erected flood barriers to protect valuable historic districts from waters that were still rising as of Tuesday. In Germany, at least 10,000 were forced to evacuate as 1,700 soldiers were called up to manage major water rises. The German Chancellor noted that damage from this week’s floods appeared likely to exceed the devastation experienced in 2002, Germany’s worst flood in modern memory. In Passau, where the Danube reached 12.2 meters above flood stage, the historic city center was under water higher than any level recorded since 1501, the year flood records began. Austria also suffered severe impacts as all three countries remain crippled with road, rail and river service suspended due to immense flooding.
The 2002 flood was called a ‘millennial flood’ because this kind of event is supposed to happen only once every thousand years. Yet flood levels have rivaled that of the 2002 flood at least on one occasion with the most recent flood already exceeding 2002 levels in a number of locations. Unfortunately, human-caused climate change has resulting in 1,000 year floods happening about twice a decade in Europe. And as greenhouse gas emissions continue to ramp up, the situation is likely to grow worse.
This year, extreme weather induced by just this kind of climate change has continued to persist. A major dip in the jet stream plunging down over Greenland and invading Britain and Europe resulted in severe weather throughout this winter and spring. Germany so far has received nearly double the amount of rain of a normal spring. Britain has suffered its wettest spring on record, while Italy saw its wettest conditions in 150 years. Since the early 2000s, four record floods have impacted Europe causing between $1 billion and $40 billion dollars in damages. The current event is likely to rival the most damaging of these floods.
Increasingly, scientists are showing that loss of Arctic sea ice caused by human warming is a primary contributor to these extreme weather events. Sea ice volume is down as much as 80% since 1979. This major erosion, scientists note, results in a slowing of the polar Jet Stream. This slowing, in turn, creates a higher frequency of blocking patterns that cause weather conditions to persist for long periods over a given area. In Europe, the northwest-southeast dip in the Jet Stream has resulted in cooler, stormier conditions to persist through southern and central regions since winter. It is a pattern that has been stuck in the same mode for months, bringing storm after storm to the region.
Back in April, the UK Met Office held an emergency meeting to discuss the impacts of climate change on the Jet Stream and attempted to plan for the severe weather now in store. Earlier this spring, the European Environmental Agency warned of the potential for record flooding. Now these predictions appear to be born out.