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Are severe floods in Europe becoming more likely?

By Newcastle University

A study by Newcastle University and the Met Office has found that climate change is driving a large increase in intense, slow-moving storms. Read our latest blog to discover what this means for our day-to-day lives.

Climate experts have shown there will be a significant future increase in the occurrence of slow-moving, intense rainstorms. Such storms may soon be 14 times more frequent across land by the end of the century, and they bring with them the potential for devastating impacts.

As evidenced in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands in the summer of 2021.


Slower storm movement and rainfall

A study led by Dr Abdullah Kahraman, of Newcastle University’s School of Engineering, found that slower storm movement increases the amount of rainfall that accumulates locally.

This increases the risk of flash floods across Europe beyond what’s expected, based on previous studies.

Dr Kahraman, who is also a visiting scientist at the Met Office, explained that with recent advances in supercomputer power, we now have pan-European climate simulations resolving the atmosphere in high detail as short-range weather forecasting models do.

These models have grid spacing of approximately 2km, which allows them to simulate storm systems much better, resulting in a more accurate representation of extremes.

By using these state-of-the-art climate simulations, we can develop metrics to extract potential cases for heavy rainfall, and a smaller, almost-stationary subset of these cases with the potential for high rainfall accumulations.

These metrics provide a holistic view of the problem and help us understand which factors of the atmosphere contribute to heavy rainfall changes.

“This is one of the first studies to explore changes in the speed of such heavy rainfall systems – an important aspect contributing to flood risk.”

Study co-author, Professor Hayley Fowler, of Newcastle University’s School of Engineering, added: “Governments across the world have been too slow in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and global warming continues apace. This study suggests that changes to extreme storms will be significant and cause an increase in the frequency of devastating flooding across Europe. This, alongside the current floods in Europe, is the wake-up call we need to produce improved emergency warning and management systems, as well as implement climate change safety factors into our infrastructure designs, to make them more robust to these severe weather events.”


How can we manage the impact of climate change?

The study findings are relevant to climate mitigation and adaptation policy in Europe, with specific implications for future flooding impacts, the design of infrastructure systems, and the management of water resources.

Currently, almost stationary intense rainstorms are uncommon in Europe and happen rarely over parts of the Mediterranean Sea.

Accurate predictions of future changes in intense rainfall events are key to putting effective adaptation and mitigation plans in place to limit the adverse impacts of climate change.

To find out more about the work our researchers are doing to mitigate climate change, explore our blog. Alternatively, receive the latest, cutting-edge insights direct to your inbox when you subscribe to our research newsletter.


Tags: One Planet, Alumni, Research Excellence