Friday, June 10, 2016

Recent Deluge in France Boosted by Warming

Residents who refused to be evacuated sit on makeshift boats during evacuation operations of the Villeneuve-Trillage suburb of Paris on June 3, 2016. (Credit: Reuters/Christian Hartmann) Click to Enlarge
Relentless rains falling across Europe over the last week caused the waters of the Seine to burst their banks in the heart of Paris and sent flash floods roaring through towns in southern Germany, crushing cars and houses in their path.

As the storms clear out and the deadly floodwaters ebb, a team of scientists has analyzed whether such deluges have become more common in these areas as the Earth has warmed.  While they found that such extreme rains are at least 40 percent — and as much as 90 percent — more likely in the areas of France they studied, the results were inconclusive for Germany.

Such a mixed bag isn’t uncommon in the relatively young science of extreme event attribution, as results can be limited by the length of weather observations or the capabilities of climate models.  But such efforts are useful in communicating the changing risks of extreme weather to the public, say the scientists, who are working with Climate Central’s World Weather Attribution program.

“Pointing out how risks are rising when an event has just occurred is critical — this is the time to raise awareness,” team member Maarten van Aalst, director of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Center, said in an email.

“Generally, it is key that people are aware of the fact that such extremes do happen, and do pose serious risks, even in developed countries such as France and Germany,” he said. “People typically don’t pay enough attention to the risk of extremes, assuming that the worst won’t happen.”
In France, the swollen Seine peaked at 20 feet above its normal height on June 3, the highest it has been in more than 30 years.  The Louvre was closed so that works of art in the areas most vulnerable to flooding could be moved to safety, while the 16th century Chambord castle to the south of Paris was inundated.

In general, it is expected that heavy downpours will increase as the world warms due to the buildup of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, because a warmer atmosphere contains more moisture.  But other factors, like changes to the circulation patterns that drive storms, can complicate the picture on more regional and local scales.

Read more at Recent Deluge in France Boosted by Warming

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