Over the past week, a powerful heat dome high pressure system grew ever-more-entrenched over a region just north of the Caspian Sea. This sprawling high pushed an extreme amplitude ridge pattern north toward Arctic Russia, Scandinavia, and the Kara and Barents Seas. Behind this ridge, toward Central and Eastern Europe, a deep trough dipole pattern developed. A cold and unstable pit in the atmosphere hungry for storms and drawing in energy from the far-north Arctic near Svalbard.
By late Tuesday, the deep pit had fallen down into a cut-off and powerful low pressure system, wringing out the moisture spilling off the heat dome high. By today, that system had turned into a kind of inland hurricane as it dumped as much as four months worth of rainfall in less than 40 hours over broad sections of Bosnia and Serbia.
(The very vision of a hydrological cycle amped-up by human-caused climate change — deluge over Bosnia and Serbia. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)
The result was a staggering inundation of water that cut off entire towns, knocked out bridges, left thousands of people stranded and resulted in the loss of at least 5 souls. Flood waters surged through towns and villages, carrying away cars, capsizing homes, and turning streets into torrents. Hillsides collapsed into slurries of muck and the two main north-south rail lines through Serbia and Bosnia were cut off.
By today, officials were declaring the event the worst water disaster ever to occur in the region. Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic made an embattled appeal for aid from neighboring countries saying:
“What we are facing is the biggest water catastrophe in Serbia’s history.”
According to reports from Serbia Independent News, rainfall rates were the highest ever measured in all of the 120 year record. Records in Bosnia also hit their highest levels since measurements began in 1894.
In Bosnia, Maglaj, a town some 60 miles north of Sarajevo was inundated by a massive water surge, forcing 6,000 to evacuate as others climbed onto rooftops to avoid the rushing water. Harried Maglai Mayor Mehmed Mustabasic noted:
“The situation is alarming. We have no electricity, the phones are not working. We are cut off from the rest of the world.”
(Euro-News assessment of the still-ongoing disaster)
Bosnian and Serbian military helicopters scoured the countryside for stranded persons, ultimately evacuating hundreds more. EU troops stationed in the Balkans joined in with trucks and more helicopters, but many roads remained impassable either due to flooding or to heavy snowfall blanketing higher elevations. Almost all schools across the widely impacted region were closed.
“We have engaged all our manpower,” said Predrag Maric, a Serbian emergency official, as strong winds and rain cut off a key road to Croatia. “Water is rising everywhere.”
Unfortunately, the cut-off low pressure system setting off this historic storm is now entrenched and will likely continue to bring severe weather to the region into early Saturday. So relief is not likely to come until the weekend.
UPDATE: As of late Sunday, the upper level low remained in place dumping heavy rainfall over the Balkans. The area of major impact expanded into Croatia as nearly fifty souls have now been taken by this extraordinarily extreme event. New update article to follow later today or tomorrow.
Hat-tip to Colorado Bob