Thousands Flee As Record Floods Inundate Central Europe

Widespread flooding throughout Central Europe has forced thousands from their homes and killed at least eleven people, with several others missing. The heavy rain expected to continue through Tuesday.

In the Czech Republic, a nationwide state of emergency is in effect and more than 3,000 people have been evacuated across the western part of the country. As the BBC reports, as of Monday morning, the River Vlatava (seen above, via AP) was flowing at 2,800 cubic meters per second — 10 times its normal volume — and is expected to rise again on Tuesday.

In an attempt to stave off a repeat of the historic 2002 floods that killed 70 people and caused an estimated 20 billion Euros worth of damage across the continent, officials in Prague have shut down the city’s subway system and central sewage treatment plant, in addition to erecting flood defenses to protect the historic city center. Outside of Prague, thousands of homes have lost access to water and power as water levels on more than 20 rivers continue to rise.

The federal army has sent 1,760 soldiers to southern and eastern parts of Germany to assist local authorities with flood defenses. According to Der Spiegel, states of emergency have been declared in a number of areas including the Bavarian city of Passau, where the Danube river rose above 12.2 meters on Monday, the highest level ever recorded. The historic city center is under water and the power supply to that district has been shut off.

Road and rail service was disrupted across all three countries following the torrential rains and shipping was stopped on parts of the Danube and Rhine rivers because of the high waters. The risk now extends downstream to other major cities, such as Budapest, located along the Danube.

After enduring a severe winter, Europe faced heavy rainfall throughout the spring. Germany’s National Meteorological Service estimates that 178 percent more rain fell in May than in the previous year. In Austria, the meteorological service said two months of rain had fallen in just two days. Britain suffered the rainiest spring on record. And in Italy, it was the wettest spring in 150 years and coldest in 20.

A study released earlier this year by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association confirmed what scientists have long been saying about the role of climate change in driving extreme precipitation. The study found that extreme precipitation events will become more frequent this century as climate change continues to warm the planet, predicting 20–30 percent more precipitation in the Northern Hemisphere by 2099.

And increasingly, scientists are connecting record Arctic sea ice loss to an increase in extreme weather due to the weakened jet stream. As NOAA explained in a 2012 news release, “… with more solar energy going into the Arctic Ocean because of lost ice, there is reason to expect more extreme weather events, such as heavy snowfall, heat waves, and flooding in North America and Europe.”

Due to heavy rainfall, higher sea-levels and more extreme weather, the European Environment Agency warned earlier this year that increased flooding is likely to be one of the most serious effects of climate change in Europe over the coming decades. Their research also found that half of the 32 member countries of the EEA still lack plans to adapt to the effects of global warming.