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expert reaction to flooding in northern Europe

Hundreds have died in Western Europe after heavy flooding.


Comment sent out 19/07/2021:

Prof Ilan Kelman, Professor of Disasters and Health at University College London, said:

“Much of this horrible catastrophe is being attributed to human-caused climate change. Little doubt exists that climate change worsened the rainfall, but a flood does not need to mean a flood disaster. Fairly precise warnings were issued days before the deluge, yet were not fully acted on. Many of the places now inundated have a centuries-long history of flood disasters. Meanwhile, urban expansion paved over green spaces and engineered rivers, so people settled in floodplains which then flooded while channelling excess water downstream to unsuspecting locales. Climate change is changing the weather, but the disaster is caused by other, long-term human actions.”


Comment sent out 18/07/2021:

Prof Hannah Cloke OBE, Professor of Hydrology at the University of Reading, said:

“There have been more huge flash floods on Saturday in Europe as the weather system that caused the terrible floods in Germany persists. 

“The cause of these floods and landslides is very similar to those we have seen already in Germany – incredibly intense rainfall falling in the upper reaches of river catchments.

“The rain is now pushing east, but could cause floods especially in areas where river levels are already high. In Austria, river levels are still going up and are likely to reach their peak late on Sunday.

“There may be more rain in the middle of next week, which could cause some additional problems in some areas.

“While floods are inevitable, it is the job of weather forecasters, flood scientists, government and municipal authorities, emergency services, businesses and individuals to work together to try and keep people and property safe. All of these groups are working extremely hard in putting plans and training into action, and I am in no doubt that their collective efforts have saved many thousands of lives and protected properties in recent days.

“Any loss of life or severe damage to buildings and communities is tragic. It is our duty as a scientific and flood forecasting community to recognise this immediately, and to work together to support vulnerable people, right now and for the future.

“The European Flood Awareness System, which is operated by the Copernicus Emergency Management Service, we set up specifically for these kind of events. I am glad that it has been able to accurately forecast events and pass information to authorities in good time, which has undoubtedly aided the difficult response. But every life lost, and to a lesser extent, every car seen floating down a street, is testament to a failure of action. Buildings cannot move, but people can, and things like cars can be put out of harm’s way. I believe more clear communication, not less, is likely to be part of the answer to improving the whole system of flood preparedness in the future, particularly in a world where climate change is making events more extreme.”


Comments sent out 15/07/2021:

Dr Liz Stephens, Associate Professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Science at the University of Reading, said:

“The flooding in Europe is a sobering demonstration of how even the most developed countries are not prepared for the impacts of climate change. Intense summer rainfall events are expected to occur more frequently under climate change, and national and local governments need to wake up to the danger and make sure that appropriate measures are taken to avoid the unacceptable number of fatalities that have been reported from this event. The floods in London earlier this week provide a warning that we are not immune to these kinds of flood impacts in the UK and should learn our own lessons from this disaster.”


Professor Hannah Cloke OBE, Professor of Hydrology at the University of Reading said:

“The deaths and destruction across Europe as a result of flooding is a tragedy that should have been avoided. For so many people to die in floods in Europe in 2021 represents a monumental failure of the system. The sight of people driving or wading through deep floodwater fills me with horror, as this is about the most dangerous thing you can do in a flood. Forecasters could see this heavy rain coming and issued alerts early in the week, and yet the warnings were not taken seriously enough and preparations were inadequate. 

“The cause of the heavy rain seems to be a warm conveyor of moist air from the north, which has dumped huge quantities of water on already wet ground. Many river levels are high for this time of year, and are expected to swell even further over the next few days.

“These kind of high-energy, sudden summer torrents of rain are exactly what we expect in our rapidly heating climate. The fact that other parts of the northern hemisphere are currently suffering record-breaking heatwaves and fires should serve as a reminder of just much more dangerous our weather could become in an ever-warmer world.”



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