Germany Has Seen the Deadliest Floods in Decades

Germany Has Seen the Deadliest Floods in Decades

This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Germany Country Manager Zahi Badra

This July, Germany experienced the deadliest floods in decades. Heavy and unexpected rains on Germany’s western borders tragically took the lives of 177 people, disconnected more than 200,000 people from electricity and communication networks for days, and left thousands homeless. This is the worst natural disaster Germany faced since the 1960’s and the worst flash-flood since 1911.

In recent years, the effects of climate change are becoming more and more noticeable in Germany. The hotter and drier summers, the more frequent heat waves, higher air humidity, more extreme shower events, high temperatures of 12 degrees Celsius Christmas, and snow in May have become the new normal. This year though Germany has experienced a catastrophe that caught everyone unprepared.

Occasional heavy rains occur every summer and around 2-3 times a decade, Germany faces summer floods. In recent years though, thanks to improved knowledge, better flood protection measures and infrastructure as well as early warning systems made these floods much less frequent and less deadly.

Until the 2000s, rainfall was somewhat equally distributed along the year. In recent years, summers become warmer and drier – more sunny and dry days are observed, yet rain events in the hot season turn more intense. The higher air humidity often condenses suddenly during high cold surges and create localized extreme showers, which are often hard to forecast. In the last deadly event this past July, some areas saw an amount of 200 liters per m² fall within one day, an amount of rain that was not observed in these regions since measurements began.

Alongside floodplains and dams which are supposed to reduce stress on the rivers in case of excessive rain, there is also an alert system which is supposed to warm local populations in case of a flood danger. However, in case of a localized, extreme rain event, these are too slow to issue a warning which could allow people to take measures. In the case of the recent floods, the warning system had no effect.

At this point, since the floods occurred only last month and pending next month’s election, it is too early to say whether this disaster will change existing policies. However, it did bring the climate discourse back to the front, making it once again a central topic for all parties. While the discussion on mitigation, emission reduction and accelerating existing measures start to intensify, the recent IPCC report can be seen as a wake-up call. It might be too late to start speaking about mitigation, but we must start seeing these disasters as a given and start speaking seriously about adaptation.

While existing measures take into account the existing climatic conditions or are based on relatively old models calculating expected change, such events should not be seen as a “once in a century” event. They should be used as an example for what Germany should prepare for and to base future adaptation measures on events like this. Unfortunately, the German government is not there yet.

Current ability of the country to adapt to extreme weather conditions it faced in 2021:

Rating: ** Fair

Four Stars (****): Outstanding

Three stars (***): Good

Two stars (**): Fair

One star (*): Unprepared


Prof. Dirk Messner, President of the Federal Environmental Agency


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