The flooding in Germany

It’s been a little quiet here. I was pretty busy with work, and I have to admit, my mind has also been very preoccupied with the recent news.

I grew up in western Germany, in the area where major flooding occurred two weeks ago, and if one thing makes you question why tf you moved so damn far away, it is when stuff is happening at home and you are not there.
Let me get the – for me personally – most important part out of the way first: my family and my hometown are safe and okay. I was so relieved. Parts of my town have flooded before, so I was justifiably worried, but there was only minor flooding along the local river, Erft, although the same small river wreaked havoc in a town just 30 miles upstream. It’s a bit of a miracle.

The local Erft river in my hometown. (© Photo credit: my Mom)

Usual flow (left) and high flow two weeks ago (right). I know it doesn’t look so bad, and that’s because, in my town, it wasn’t. You can see actual destruction if you click the link below.

Many other parts of the German western states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate as well as parts of Belgium and the Netherlands were completely devastated when swollen rivers tore through towns and villages. The images are hard to look at. You wouldn’t expect widespread destruction like that in a European country. (I am not saying it’s okay anywhere, but to see this happen in some of the wealthiest and most technologically advanced countries, who have invested in flood forecasting and preparation prompted by previous inundations, is mind-boggling.)

The fact that this made national news in the US, when usually not much of the European news does (because we’re so busy with what’s going on in this country), you know it is huge.

But we really shouldn’t be surprised, or should we? Very unusual (and early!) heatwaves in the western United States, more frequent wildfires or intense freezing spells, and now the flooding in Europe. I’m sorry, but it does not seem like a coincidence. Climate scientists are convinced that these events are caused by climate change and even though exactly how all the different pieces might be connected, is still a subject of debate (and research), scientists have a hunch that global warming causes the slowing down of the jet stream, a fast-moving, high-altitude, current of air that circulates above the Earth, and therefore slows down weather systems. Because warmer air can hold more moisture (and global temperatures are rising), the combination of more moisture and a stalled storm system can then lead to extra-heavy rains over an area in a short amount of time. A high-pressure system moved very slowly over the western part of the United States a couple of weeks ago, hence the extreme heat, and a near-stationary low-pressure weather system brought record levels of rain to western Europe on Wednesday. 

I am not a climate scientist, but for someone with a logical brain who works in the earth sciences, this all makes a lot of sense to me. Yes, there are nuances and many, many things that factor into this, but the trends are there. If you don’t see it, I can’t help you.

We really have to start addressing climate change for what it is: a climate crisis. It’s not too late to make appropriate changes, but the international community must pull together. We can’t keep pointing fingers at others and demand that they “fix” it. Everybody has to do their part. It’s hard as an individual person to know how to make an impact but we can all try to live more environmentally conscious lives and demand from our elected leaders to make the climate crisis a priority and address things on a global scale. 

  1. This one sentence of all “Everybody has to do their part”!!!
    If just everybody would see what is wrong, that the climate crisis is real and we just have this one earth…..
    I’m very happy that your family is safe but it’s heartbreaking how devastating the flooding has been for so many.

    1. Thanks friend. The climate crisis is definitely something we ALL have to address in one way or another. We can make changes in small ways that have an impact!

  2. I agree with you wholeheartedly. It’s terrifying, really. It can feel overwhelming – we are only one person – but I do think individual changes can lead to significant impact.

    I’m glad your family is safe.

    1. Thank you, Nicole. And yes, I agree, individual changes – even if they seem small – can lead to significant impact!

  3. Totally agree about climate change. It’s sad that it’s another thing that has become political. Science is typically extremely objective so it’s very frustrating to see something that is backed by data questioned by many. And how unwilling people are to make changes.

    I’m glad your family and town was safe, though. We have experienced a lot of flooding in this region of the US over the last 20 years. It is terrifying to see what can happen when a river hits the flood stage. Once your house has flooded, it’s really hard to get it back to pre-flood conditions. We dealt with flooding back in 1997 when I was in HS and it was such a terrible mess.

    1. I am so sorry to hear that you’ve also dealt with flooding before. I do NOT envy you for that experience – it seems terrifying to me.

  4. This is so veery shocking and yet not surprising. I remember last year when California and Australia were on fire, earthquakes and floods and droughts. The signs are all there but we – in privileged countries – keep on ignoring it. It reminded me of my older post and I am thinking an update is due with more ways to live more sustainable.
    I am glad your family is save I was thinking of you and them when it all started making the news.

  5. I am so glad your family is okay <3 I was surprised to see the flooding happen there too, but also, not surprised, because, climate change. Thanks for taking the time to explain why scientist think this is happening – I've been wondering why (I mean, I know we are f*cking up the earth, just exactly how it's affecting it with the jet-stream).

  6. San, like I’ve said, I’m so sorry this happened but I’m so so glad that your family is okay. I completely agree with you re: climate change. And now with the UN report, continuing to ignore the problem is no longer an option. Whether that makes the sceptics (sigh) change their minds is yet to be seen.

    I’ll continue to keep your family in my thoughts. I hope hope hope you get to see them, sooner rather than later.

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