On the initiative of the World Weather Attribution (WWA), an international team has made a first attribution study to answer the question whether the risk of severe weather due to climate change, such as the heavy rainfall of 14 and 15 July, has increased.

The floods started in the United Kingdom as flash floods causing some property damage and inconvenience. Later floods affected several river basins across Europe including Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. At least 230 people died in the floods, including 184 in Germany, 42 in Belgium, 2 in Romania, 1 in Italy and 1 in Austria.

The observed precipitation amounts in Germany and Belgium far exceeded historical observations. The study concludes that the probability of such an extreme event in Western Europe has increased due to climate change.

In contrast to the attribution of heat waves, extreme rain attribution is scientifically very difficult. The two worst affected regions, namely the Meuse basin in Belgium and the Ahr-Erft region in Germany, are too small to obtain reliable results with an attribution study. Therefore, the study area was expanded to a region in Western Europe that also includes parts of France, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Switzerland.

Chance of extreme precipitation increased due to global warming

The study considers the maximum daily rainfall during the summer six months in the wider region of Western Europe. Based on observations and data from detailed regional climate models, such an event can be expected to occur once every 400 years in every region of Western Europe, according to the study.  The study further shows that given the global average temperature increase today of 1.2°C compared to the period 1850-1900, the probability of extreme rain events in the study area has increased by a factor of 1.2 to 9, and in intensity from 3 to 19%! Further increases in global average temperature will push up the probability and intensity of such events even more. These results are also in line with the findings of the recently published IPCC report.

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