What is triggering the extreme floods in Europe and London?

A low-pressure vortex circling over Europe and hemmed in by other weather fronts has triggered the catastrophic flooding in Germany and neighbouring countries

Meterologists believe the intense weather system may have also caused the flash floods in London as well as heavy rainfall in surrounding areas.

Looming above Germany is a highly charged band of air which has caused record rainfall in western parts of the country.

Weather experts said that rain in the region over the past 24 hours had been unprecedented, as a near-stationary low-pressure weather system also caused sustained local downpours to the west in France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

The low pressure appeared to have been held in place by adjacent weather systems, causing continuous and highly concentrated downpours.

The Deutscher Wetterdienst, Germany’s equivalent to the Met Office, said that the storms had been so bad because Bernd was "surrounded by high-pressure systems and was therefore unable to move on". 

Germany flood locator map

What happened in London?

The UK Met Office said the shock downpours in London were likely linked to the weather events in Europe.

Grahame Madge, from Met Office, said: "What tends to happen with these quite big country-scale features is that other weather patterns around them will be influenced. It’s affected the flow over the UK and contributed to some of these intense showers."

Mr Madge said showers moving across southern areas of the UK began to converge, so mild spells of rain combined to make more intense downpours.

Pedestrians were left wading through streets in parts of London where cars were abandoned to high waters this week. The flash flooding was so heavy that almost 100mm of rain fell within a couple of hours.

"When there’s heat and moisture in the system, that can lead to very heavy downpours. They’re sporadic in nature and where they do occur, they can be very intense," Mr Madge said.

What next?

Forecasters say Germany should be braced for extreme showers over the coming days which will likely lead to rivers overflowing and damage to nearby properties.

Meteorologists predicted further "extreme storms" in the western and central parts of Germany, with peak rainfall possibly reaching 200mm per square meter.

Finer weather is forecast in western Germany for next week.

Here’s the rainfall radar from the last 24 hours, showing the weather system that has brought flooding to parts of Germany, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. pic.twitter.com/OeGhR6ERWT

— BBC Weather (@bbcweather) July 15, 2021

The German Federal Weather Service (DWD) said that ‘Bernd’, the low low pressure system in Europe, still has Germany in its grip, and over the weekend the high-pressure system Dana will be centred over the British Isles."

Are extreme weather events becoming more frequent?

Extreme weather events are hitting Europe more frequently as climate change warms the continent, experts agree.

2020 was Europe’s hottest year since records began over three hundred years ago, according to analysis of global weather stations by Berkeley Earth, and eight of the ten hottest ever years have been in the past decade.  

The continent’s average temperature is now roughly 2 degrees warmer than it was at the start of the twentieth century – an increase that has come with a growth in extreme weather. 

For example, warmer air holds more water which, in turn, can lead to extreme downpours. 

Europe floods, in pictures

One recent study by academics at the Institute for Technology in Zurich suggested that between 1981 and 2013, Europe saw a 45 percent increase in the number of days with heavy rainfall compared to the previous 30 years. 

This has coincided with a large increase in severe flooding events, which grew more than threefold between the eighties and the noughties. 

Flooding can also come from rising sea levels, particularly impacting low-lying areas of Europe, such as the Netherlands and Belgium. 

The scene in Liege after heavy rainfall, on Thursday

Credit: BRUNO FAHY / Avalon

A rescue boat is carried by a special purpose vehicle in the flooded Ehrang neighbourhood in Trier, western Germany

Credit: AFP

People stand in a flooded street following heavy rains in Liege

Credit: BRUNO FAHY/AFP

Globally, sea levels have increased by around 20cm since 1900 but this could jump to up to  80cm in Europe by the end of the century as global ice caps melt, according to the European Environment Agency (EEA). 

Meanwhile, data shows southern Europe has become drier and hotter, with droughts increasing since the 1950s and drier rivers during the summer months. 

Increased heat has also been attributed to forest fires in parts of the continent where they were previously rare. 

In 2018, more countries suffered forest fires than ever recorded before, including Sweden, who suffered the worst fires in the country’s modern history.

Is it linked to climate change?

The German interior minister on Thursday blamed global warming for the floods.

Speaking with German tabloid Bild on Thursday afternoon, Mr Seehofer said preparation for such events needed to be better as they were likely to be more frequent in future. 

"These extreme weather conditions are the consequences of climate change," Seehofer said. 

"We have to prepare much better for this, including when it comes to flood protection."

Scientists say the increased frequency of extreme weather events is likely to be caused by climate change.

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