Climate change made the extreme rainfall and floods that devastated Germany and Belgium last month at least 20 per cent more likely to happen, scientists said on Tuesday.
Severe rainfall is now up to nine times more likely in western Europe and downpours are also between 3 and 19 per cent more intense, research published by the World Weather Attribution scientific consortium found.
At least 190 people in western Germany and 38 people in Belgium's southern Wallonia region were killed in mid-July.
“We will definitely get more of this in a warming climate,” said the WWA co-leader Friederike Otto, a climate scientist at the University of Oxford.
“Extreme weather is deadly. This is an urgent global challenge and we need to step up to it. The science is clear and has been for years.”
She said the floods showed “even developed countries are not safe from severe impacts of extreme weather that we have seen and known to get worse with climate change".
WWA scientists used regional weather records and computer simulations to compare the July flooding with what might have been expected in a world unaffected by climate change.
Because warmer air holds more moisture, summer downpours in this region of northern Europe are now 3-19 per cent heavier than they would be without global warming, the scientists found.
And the event itself was anywhere from 1.2 to 9 times – or 20 per cent to 800 per cent – more likely to have occurred. The broad range of uncertainty was explained partly by a lack of historical records, WWA said.
“Climate change increased the likelihood [of the floods] but climate change also increased the intensity,” said Frank Kreienkamp, from the German weather service.
Extreme weather events have plagued the planet this summer, from a deadly Canadian heatwave to wildfires across the Siberian Arctic.
“The fact that people are losing their lives in one of the richest countries in the world – that is truly shocking,” said climate scientist Ralf Toumi of Imperial College London, who was not involved in the study. “Nowhere is safe.”
The rainfall over Europe from July 12 to July 15 triggered flooding that swept away houses and power lines in Germany, Belgium and elsewhere.
“It was a very rare event,” said Maarten van Aalst, director of the International Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre.
“On the other hand it has already become more likely than before and it will become more likely in the future. Sadly, people tend to be prepared for the last disaster.”