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Torrential Rain, Deadly Flooding Wreak Devastation in Western Europe

Climate
An area completely destroyed by the flood in Germany.
An area completely destroyed by the flood in the Blessem district of Erftstadt, western Germany, on July 16, 2021. SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP via Getty Images

More than 100 people are dead and about 1,300 still missing in the wake of extreme rain and flooding western Europe. The torrential rainfall — as much as two months' worth in two days, amounts not seen in the summer for at least a century — unleashed flooding that stacked cars like children's toys and drowned residents in their cellars.


Electricity was also cut off for 165,000 in western Germany. Extreme precipitation is one of the clearest and most widespread impacts of climate change. Warmer air holds more water, and thus dumps more water when it rains — just as a bigger bucket can hold and dump more water.

"Entire villages are flooded," Malu Dreyer, the premier of Germany's Rhineland-Palatinate state, said in a speech to the local parliament. "Houses float away just like that." The flooding is one in a recent series of events — including heatwaves in the Arctic and Western U.S. — shocking climate scientists who say the climate impacts they have long predicted are coming sooner, and across a greater area than they expected.

"I am surprised by how far [the rainfall] is above the previous record," Dieter Gerten, who grew up in a village in the affected area and is now professor of global change climatology and hydrology at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, told The Guardian. "We seem to be not just above normal but in domains we didn't expect in terms of spatial extent and the speed it developed."

For a deeper dive:

Flooding: The Guardian, AP, The Washington Post, The New York Times, France24, AFP, NBC, Wall Street Journal, NPR; Rain intensity: Axios; Power outages: Bloomberg; Climate scientists: The Guardian, CNN; Photos: Politico EU; Climate Signals background: Extreme precipitation

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