Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands suffered very bad floods last week due to a series of intense storms that dumped a lot of water in a small area. The region had been damp to begin with, so the water-logged soils couldn’t hold any more. Two dams broke, a third overflowed but did not fail, and people died. Homes collapsed, roads and railroads disappeared into twisted masses of paving and tracks. Now people are trying to asses the damage and find the missing. It’s a horrible situation for the people of the Eifel region, Cologne, and areas downstream. The people flooded in North America can sympathize. Lots of water, very fast, on ground that can’t absorb more water . . . Flash flooding follows. It’s terrible for the people and animals caught in the water and mud.
The German and EU governments, and others, are blaming climate change for the intense storms that led to the flooding and deaths. If only we used non-CO2 producing sources of energy, this would never have happened, say the politicians and activists. Except . . .
I remember driving along the Rhine in 2012 and being flabbergasted by the height of the river. High rainfall had filled it to brim full. The Rhone and other tributaries also ran high. In 2002, the Elbe River in eastern Germany and the Czech Republic flooded, inundating Prague, Leipzig, Dresden, and other cities. In 1965, Hamburg went under water, and it still does. The parking garage near the maritime museum in the old part of the city has big signs on the doors saying not to open them if the water is X deep. The ground floors of buildings in that area are semi-sacrificial. In that case, it was a North Sea storm that backed water up the river and into the city. You know, like the horrible floods that killed tens of thousands of people at a go in the 1300s, 1500s, and 1700s, and probably earlier? Back before the internal combustion engine, during the Little Ice Age and before? Those floods. Inland also flooded as well in the past.
The above link goes to a paper looking at floods on the Lech and Isar Rivers, tributaries of the Danube that flow through Augsburg and Munich respectively. Floods happen. Lots of floods. When conditions are right, the rivers rise. Between 1300-1900, each river flooded over 85 times. The high waters ranged from “it flooded, that’s what it does” to huge inundations that wiped out large swaths of crop land and homes. (The part you want starts on page 790, or page 8 of the PDF).
Jo Nova has a post as well, about flood histories in the lower Rhineland, and elsewhere in the German-speaking world. https://joannenova.com.au/2021/07/a-world-protected-by-windmills-in-1717-christmas-floods-in-germany-killed-14000/
If you dig carefully enough, there are reports of floods during the warm period of the High Middle Ages (800s-1200s), and probably archaeological evidence of flooding during the Roman Warm Period. My point being that “rivers flood. That’s what they do,” as a farmer in Flat State observed as we discussed the local stream’s recent overflow. This does not make it any easier on people who find themselves caught in the waters. A poor lady on the news last night said that the municipality sent out a flood warning on Facebook™, but if people had no computers or were not on FB at the time, they didn’t know about the waters about to engulf the village. The national government did what it could, but local authorities dropped the ball. Or power had already gone out, and that wiped out cell service and other things. That’s not climate change, that’s a failure to have back-up plans.
It’s terrible that people were hurt or killed, and that more people lost homes, businesses, crops, and animals. Floods leave stinky, filth-ridden, disease-promoting muck and mire behind. The sun emerges, the mud steams, and miasmas fill the air as people start cleaning up. As has always happened since humans moved into floodplains and coastal plains.
If I could get a point across to politicians and activists around the world, it would be this: don’t blame anthropogenic climate change. Blame physics, hydrology, and gravity. Read about the Little Ice Age and the Great Drownings of the North Sea. Read Dagomar DeGroot’s Frigid Golden Age about the Dutch and the Little Ice Age. Solar panels and wind turbines can’t stop flooding, or intense storms. Coal and natural-gas powered generators don’t cause storms, neither do internal combustion engines.
Weather happens, no matter how badly people wish it didn’t. Pester your local politicians about bad land-use policies, donate to your local volunteer fire-and-rescue, and to groups that help with clean-up and rebuilding. Think about what you can do to help mitigate runoff and reduce hardscapes that contribute to urban flash-flooding. Those are things that can affect flood damage and loss of life. Sometimes. And sometimes, hell and high-water come together because of forces far beyond human control.