What Caused the Devastating Flooding in Europe?

The catastrophic flooding situation in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands has been headline news across the world. Since our last news item we have been piecing together the reasons for such an extreme event which looks like being the highest death toll from a European flood event this century.

There had been a period of unsettled weather over much of continental Europe for the past couple of weeks with thunderstorms bringing about some localised flooding incidents, damaging winds and tennis ball sized hail. Some of the larger rivers in western Germany were already showing high water levels on 12th July, with minor flooding of riverside properties. The quasi-stationary (slow moving) depression which brought rainfall over 14th-16th July (named as “Bernd” by the German Weather Service) had an area of continuous and intense rainfall in the Rhineland area, with totals reaching 150mm in 24 hours.

Those familiar with this Germany/Belgian border area would know it is an upland area with steep river valleys, characterised by the Rhine and Mosel Gorges. The combination of the intense rainfall over saturated soils and the steep relief led to catastrophic flooding. Small streams became raging torrents, leading to severe erosions and associated landslides. In Germany, villages in the Ahr valley were particularly badly hit with whole rows of houses being swept away.

Heartbreaking pictures show Schuld, in one of the worst-affected regions of Rhineland-Palatinate, littered with piles of debris as locals try to comprehend the tragedy.

Photo dpa/Christoph Reichwein.

In Belgium, the city of Verviers was badly affected. Those familiar with the E42 road may remember the steep climb as the motorway passes through the city, demonstrating the impact that the landscape had on the flooding.

Storm Bernd then moved slowly south, in the following days, and heavy rainfall affected the northern part of the Alps, bringing further deaths and damage from flooding and landslides in parts of Bavaria and Austria.

This ‘terrifying’ flooding across Europe has claimed at least 195 lives, with fears the death toll could still rise.