The European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) unveiled the beta version of the Global Flood Monitoring (GFM) tool, unique for its capacity to process all data received by the Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellites.
Making use of the synthetic aperture radar of Sentinel-1 that enables image acquisitions regardless of weather or daylight conditions, this tool will improve both the emergency response and the prevention for future floods worldwide.
It produces flood monitoring maps within less than 8 hours after the satellite has acquired the image at a spatial resolution of 20m at global level.
For Europe, the tool can provide updated flood monitoring maps every 1-3 days whereas for areas outside Europe updating of the flood maps may take between 6-12 days depending on the Sentinel-1 schedule.
The tool is currently accessible through the map viewer of the Global Flood Awareness System (GloFAS) of the Copernicus Emergency Management Service (CEMS) and will be, at a later stage, also available through the map viewer of the European Flood Awareness System (EFAS).
The monitoring of the ongoing floods using satellite data from GFM, complements the flood forecasts of EFAS and GloFAS that are calculated using weather predictions and a hydrological model.
The combination of both tools within one interface enables its users to better support the preparedness of an upcoming flood (forecasts) as well as the response to an ongoing flood event (monitoring). This constant, global, high-resolution monitoring represents a significant progress in the EU’s disaster awareness and prevention.
The results produced by GFM can be used for planning and coordinating emergency response to an ongoing flood or for supporting the international help in affected areas. In addition, the archive of the GFM, which contains flood monitoring maps derived from the processing of all Sentinel-1 data starting 1.
January 2015, enables decision makers to improve prevention plans to avoid or to reduce the impact of future floods and scientists to use the dataset of GFM to validate or calibrate models for improving predictions of impacts of floods under climate change.
The GFM is the result of years of scientific development of the JRC and partners (Earth Observation Data Center, Technical University of Vienna, Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology, Deutsches Zentrum fuer Luft und Raumfahrt, Geoville, CIMA Research Foundation). This latest addition to the CEMS portfolio of products is launched during the CEMS Days, an event bringing together users of the CEMS tools to discuss the service and its evolution.
During the CEMS days, the JRC also presented the Global Human Settlement Layer (GHSL), which produces global spatial information about the human presence on the planet over time. GHSL has now been added to the CEMS suite of tools, as a new ‘exposure mapping’ component. Detailed information on exposure is fundamental to adequately managing crisis and disaster risk.
The GHSL provides highly accurate information derived from satellite and census data. It can help in answering questions like: how many people are living in the flooded areas? Or: how many settlements and people will be affected by a cyclone?
This information will be used in the on-demand mapping and early warning and monitoring components of CEMS. The information is also useful for a wide range of domains, from monitoring urbanisation to the progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.
Extreme weather and climate change impacts across Asia in 2020 caused the loss of life of thousands of people, displaced millions of others and cost hundreds of billions of dollars, while wreaking a heavy toll on infrastructure and ecosystems. Sustainable development is threatened, with food and water insecurity, health risks and environmental degradation on the rise, according to a new multi-agency report coordinated by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
The State of the Climate in Asia 2020 provides an overview of land and ocean temperatures, precipitation, glacier retreat, shrinking sea ice, sea level rise and severe weather. It examines socio-economic impacts in a year when the region was also struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic, which in turn complicated disaster management.
The report shows how every part of Asia was affected, from Himalayan peaks to low-lying coastal areas, from densely populated cities to deserts and from the Arctic to the Arabian seas.
“Weather and climate hazards, especially floods, storms, and droughts, had significant impacts in many countries of the region, affecting agriculture and food security, contributing to increased displacement and vulnerability of migrants, refugees, and displaced people, worsening health risks, and exacerbating environmental issues and losses of natural ecosystems,” said WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas.
“Combined, these impacts take a significant toll on long term sustainable development, and progress toward the UN 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals in particular,” he said.
The report combines input from a wide range of partners including the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and other UN agencies, national meteorological and hydrological services as well as leading scientists and climate centres.
The past seven years are on track to be the seven warmest on record, according to the provisional WMO State of the Global Climate 2021 report, based on data for the first nine months of 2021. A temporary cooling “La Niña” event early in the year means that 2021 is expected to be “only” the fifth to seventh warmest year on record. But this does not negate or reverse the long-term trend of rising temperatures.The report combines input from multiple United Nations agencies, national meteorological and hydrological services and scientific experts. It highlights impacts on food security and population displacement, harming crucial ecosystems and undermining progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. It was released at a press conference on the opening day of COP26.
Global sea level rise accelerated since 2013 to a new high n 2021, with continued ocean warming and ocean acidification.
The report combines input from multiple United Nations agencies, national meteorological and hydrological services and scientific experts. It highlights impacts on food security and population displacement, harming crucial ecosystems and undermining progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.
The provisional State of the Climate 2021 report was released at the start of the UN Climate Change negotiations, COP26, in Glasgow. It provides a snapshot of climate indicators such as greenhouse gas concentrations, temperatures, extreme weather, sea level, ocean warming and ocean acidification, glacier retreat and ice melt, as well as socio-economic impacts.
It is one of the flagship scientific reports which will inform negotiations and which will be showcased at the Science pavilion hosted by WMO, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the UK Met Office. During COP26, WMO will launch the Water and Climate Coalition to coordinate water and climate action, and the Systematic Observations Financing Facility to improve weather and climate observations and forecasts which are vital to climate change adaptation.
For days leading up to the disaster, Mr. Harisaran Shrestha had been listening to warnings about floods in the Melamchi, a river that flows through the foothills of the Himalayas in central Nepal. At least one local FM radio was repeatedly broadcasting notices about the possible release of water from the reservoir of a nearby drinking-water project and urging the public to avoid river banks and to refrain from activities like fishing, sand mining, and gravel collecting.
The local police and representatives were also issuing similar warnings around the town via microphones and loudspeakers.
Owing to these forewarnings, when the flood eventually hit his hometown, Melamchi Bazar, northeast of Kathmandu in Sindhupalchowk district, in June 2021, Mr. Shrestha was better prepared to react to the deluge. “As soon as it became apparent that the flood was going to sweep the entire town, I used my bus to ferry women, children, and disabled people in the neighbourhood to a safer location,” said Mr. Shrestha.
On June 15, just an hour after the final warning from the radio and police announcement on loudspeaker, massive floods near the confluence of the Melachmi River and the Indrawati River swept through the settlements near Shrestha’s hometown, killing at least five people and destroying property worth millions of rupees. At least a dozen people remain missing more than two months after one of the worst disasters in the town's history.
Despite saving many lives, Mr. Shrestha could not save his belongings because he had underestimated the scale of the disaster. “Our home was at a considerable distance from the river. It never occurred to me that the swollen river’s waters would reach this far,” Mr. Shrestha recalled in an interview.
Now displaced by the flood, Mr. Shrestha, 38, has been living with a family of six in a temporary shelter. The river, which has changed its course, now runs through his home and farmland.
“The river took everything. Thankfully, all of us are safe,” said Mr. Shrestha.
Mr. Dev Raj Subedi, the manager of Radio Melamchi, which issued the flood warnings, said that the alerts had proved effective in saving hundreds of lives, although only a few households managed to save some of their possessions--those they could carry with them. Radio Melamchi has been ritually providing flood-related warnings to the municipality’s estimated 50,000 inhabitants for the last few years, especially after the Melamchi Drinking Water Project gathered momentum in the 2010s.
“We issued the warning as soon as a government official informed us about the flood upstream. The warning proved especially helpful in the town area, whose inhabitants had the means to access the warning. That was one of the reasons there were no deaths in the town area,” shared Mr. Subedi.
Melamchi’s case is the latest example of how the growing use of mass media and early warning systems through data collected from meteorological and hydrological stations and rainfall-runoff model is proving effective in saving lives in Nepal, which is highly susceptible to disasters, owing to its topography and its hundreds of big and small rivers.
Every year, floods and landslides wreak havoc in Nepal, leading to huge numbers of casualties and untold destruction of property. Hill settlements are particularly vulnerable to landslides and flash floods, while riverine floods routinely deluge the lowland areas bordering India.
Every year during the rainy season, hundreds of families lose their house, agricultural yield, and means of livelihood, pushing them further into poverty.
Between 13 April to 16 October in 2020, floods and landslides killed at least 337 Nepalis, wiped out thousands of houses, and destroyed property worth billions of rupees, according to an estimate by Nepal’s Ministry of Home Affairs. More than 100 people remain missing on account of those floods.
Numerous factors including the 2015 earthquake, infrastructural projects and climate change have contributed to increasing disasters, according to experts. For instance, Sindhupalchowk district, the epicenter of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that rattled Nepal in 2015, has seen a marked increase in landslides and floods following the tragedy that killed over 9,000 people.
Mr. Bikram Shrestha Zoowa, a senior Divisional Hydrologist at the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology, in Kathmandu, said that climate-induced hazards and unplanned development are emerging as challenges in recent decades.
Examples include recent disasters such as the Setigandaki flood in Kaski, Jure landslide-Sindhupalchowk in 2014, a Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF) in Tibet immediately above the Bhotekoshi River in Sindhupalchowk in 2016; a dry landslide in the Kaligandaki Corridor after the 2015 earthquake, another GLOF in Barun valley obstructing the flow of Arun River in 2017, and numerous climate-induced landslides during the 2020 monsoon and this year, said Mr. Shrestha Zoowa.
“Human interventions such as road construction in hill slopes without considering geological studies are certainly the causes of the region’s geological fragility, which results in small and big landslides in hilly regions. This is the man-made effect in addition to earthquakes responsible for hazards.”
According to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, global temperature is expected to reach or exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming averaged over the next 20 years. In 2019, a landmark report
by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, an intergovernmental center based in Nepal, warned that a two-degree temperature rise could melt half of the glaciers in the Hindu Kush Himalaya region, destabilising Asia’s rivers.
In recent years, to minimise loss of life and property, an increasing number of communities vulnerable to disasters have begun to integrate social media platforms--such as Facebook and Twitter--and other technologies to provide early warnings. And as with Radio Melamchi, more than 500 FM radio stations across Nepal are being used to disseminate news and timely warnings. Many other local bodies are integrating SMS text messages to provide real-time alerts for people living in disaster-prone zones.
In Kailali, a western Nepal district bordering India’s Uttar Pradesh, flood warnings through SMS alerts and phone calls have proven effective in saving lives in settlements spread along the Karnali River Basin.
“When massive floods hit our village in 2016, most of the villagers with mobile phones had received SMS alerts three hours before the disaster. Those three hours gave us ample time to save not just our lives, but also our livestock and essentials like some grains and documents,” said Ms. Sajita Tharu of Laxmipur village in Kailali district. “Thankfully, we have not faced that kind of flood in recent years but we continue to receive alerts if water rises above the danger level. That allows us to remain mentally prepared and save essentials in case the flood hits us.”
As part of the community-based early warning approach, residents living in catchment areas constantly pass on information about the water level in their area to residents of villages downstream. The community groups also get constant flood alerts from the Department of Hydrology’s regional station. The alerts--including text messages, phone calls, and information from weatherboards--are widely circulated by the members of the Community Disaster Management Committees, which were formed by programs designed to enhance the communities’ flood resilience. Most members of these user committees are women, as many working-age men migrate to India or other countries in search of jobs.
Ms. Manakala Kumari Chaudhari, the deputy mayor of Rajapur Municipality in far-western Nepal, said that the timely early warning system in his area has been instrumental in saving lives and properties. As soon as the water level rises above the danger level upstream, several people who own mobile phones in his municipality--a delta created by the Karnali River--receive warnings.
“Save for some exceptions, most locals respond to warnings and take the required safety measures. The timely alerts also provide ample time for all stakeholders to make the necessary preparations for disasters,” said Ms. Chaudhari.
Such timely warnings are critical because they provide enough time to save lives. The area is susceptible to constant floods from big rivers like the Karnali and Babai and from small streams, which are usually dry in other seasons.
In preparation for the seasonal floods, communities in western Nepal have also built community shelters, animal sheds to shelter their livestock and grain-storage facilities to save grains.
Since Nepal adopted federalism in 2015, there have been efforts at all three levels of government to embrace disaster-resilience policies. The central government, the provincial government, as well as many local governments have adopted policies related to disaster risk reduction. Recently, under the Home Ministry, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority prepared the National Monsoon Early Preparedness and Response Work Plan
2021. However, questions remain around the implementation of these policies and the authorities’ ability to handle large-scale disasters, especially owing to their lack of resources. Moreover, growing landslides along newly constructed highways, hydropower projects and other infrastructures-- many of which were cleared after proper Environment Impact Assessment--- have reinforced the need for better policies to promote resilient infrastructure.
But overall, the early warning systems seem to be reducing the impacts of floods in many parts of Nepal. Mr. Shrestha Zoowa, the hydrologist, said that early warning systems have proven effective in saving hundreds of lives every year, especially in vulnerable settlements along big rivers such as the Karnali, Babai, Narayani, and Koshi. The data gathered from weather stations, rainfall-runoff models are disseminated in form of daily bulletins through various media platforms, while the weather forecast relies on the Weather Research and Forecasting model, an advanced numerical weather prediction framework designed for operational forecasting and atmospheric research needs.
In recent years, the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology has been working with various non-governmental organizations in developing disaster information management systems and online databases to provide real-time information to augment its early warning systems.
The Disaster Risk Reduction Portal and Nepal Government GeoPortal, among other platforms, provide information gathered from various hydro-meteorological stations in Rasuwa, Solukhumbu, Kaski, Dolpa, Humla, Dolakha, Jumla, Sankhuwasabha and Manang districts.
“For most flood events, we have effective plans, technologies, and historical information to issue timely and reliable warnings to vulnerable settlements. But we lack an effective early warning system for flash floods in the hills and for settlements along small rivers, which are highly unpredictable,” said Mr. Shrestha Zoowa.
Nepal also needs to do more to ensure that people respond to early warnings. Although many local communities are making good use of weather forecasts and flood alerts, some are unable to take advantage of the information, often because they lack the economic means and/or technical knowledge to know what to do. Often the warning messages come with technical jargon and they may not effectively relay the impact information of the disaster relevant to people’s day to day life and experience. “The early warning systems have become much better over the years but there is still a lot to be done,” said Mr. Shrestha Zoowa.
The International Code Council, the leading global source of model codes and standards and building safety solutions, and RESNET, a national standards-making body for energy efficiency ratings and certification systems, will continue their long history of collaboration by developing a new American National Standards Institute (ANSI) candidate standard on remote virtual inspections (RVI) for the energy and water use performance of buildings. Previously, the two organizations have worked together to develop a new certification designation, the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC)/Home Energy Rating System (HERS) Compliance Specialist, and four other ANSI standards. Most recently, they advocated and received recognition of the Home Energy Rating System (HERS®) Index within California.
The new standard will provide guidance for implementing RVI for energy code compliance and for energy and water efficiency performance. Performance raters will be provided criteria to check all aspects of permitted construction for compliance with energy codes and other energy-related applicable laws and regulations. As a next step, a new Standard Development Committee will be formed to develop and maintain the standard with the Code Council and RESNET appointing representatives – both separately and jointly.
“Building construction is rapidly evolving and jurisdictions are being challenged to adapt,” said Mark Johnson, Executive Vice President & Director of Business Development, International Code Council. “The need for new inspection methods has been building for a while as the inspector workforce has shrunk and jurisdictions’ resources have come under financial pressure. The pandemic also increased the pressure to evolve, and quickly.”
RVI is a tool to address these problems and organizations such as the Code Council have developed guidance documents to assist code enforcement entities.
“As more code enforcement departments begin their digital transformation and adopt technologies like RVI, there needs to be standardized criteria for how it is implemented,” said Steve Baden, Executive Director, RESNET. “A national consensus standard for RVI as it applies to energy- and water-use efficiency inspections and ratings will both provide code enforcement authorities with assurance that the ratings they adopt for code compliance are reliable, as well as advance the efficiency and efficacy potentials of these new approaches to determining code compliance.”
The standard would be co-sponsored by the Code Council and RESNET and developed using RESNET’s ANSI accredited procedures as an American National Standard by ANSI. For more information on RVI, the Code Council released a whitepaper, Recommended Practices for Remote Virtual Inspections (RVI), which will be the foundation for the development of the new consensus standard.
The Asia-Pacific region needs to step up efforts to prepare for and tackle complex, overlapping crises in order to increase the resilience of its people as well as its economies, with climate change threatening to dwarf the challenges of COVID-19 pandemic, a key meeting of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific has heard.
“Notwithstanding the progress made by many countries in devising more robust systems of early warning and responsive protection - with far fewer people dying as a result of natural disasters - the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that almost without exception, countries around the world are still ill-prepared to deal with multiple overlapping crises, which often cascade,” said Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP.
“Tropical cyclones, for example, can lead to floods, which lead to disease, which exacerbates poverty,” she told the ESCAP Committee on Disaster Risk Reduction.
Since the start of the pandemic, the region has been hit by multiple natural and biological disasters. At the same time, climate change has continued to warm the world, exacerbating the impacts of many of these disasters. The Asia-Pacific Disaster Report 2021, which was launched during ESCAP’s Disaster Reslience Week, shows that the pandemic, combined with the persistent reality of climate change, has reshaped and expanded the disaster “riskscape” in Asia and the Pacific.
Resilience in Asia-PacificThe triple threat of disease, disaster and climate change is causing not only considerable human hardship but also significant economic losses. Currently, the annual average disaster-related losses are $780 billion. This could nearly double, to around $1.4 trillion, in a worst-case climate scenario. Choosing a proactive strategy of adapting to natural and other biological hazards would be far more cost-effective at an annual cost of $270 billion, said the report.
WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas urged great ambition to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to accelerate climate change adaptation.
“If we fail with the climate change mitigation, the impact is going to be felt for centuries or even millennia, so the scale of the problem we are talking about when it comes to climate change, the scale is much bigger,” Prof. Taalas told ESCAP’s Committee on Disaster Risk Reduction.
The new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has highlighted the increasing severity of the physical impacts of climate change because of record concentrations of greenhouse gases. This includes long-term melting of glaciers, snow and ice cover, sea level rise and ocean acidification, which will last for centuries or even thousands of years, Prof. Taalas said in a video address.
“Heatwaves, drought, forest fires, flooding, landslides and tropical storms are becoming more intense, as a result. Last year was the warmest year on record in Asia and we have also seen record breaking flooding, especially in East Asia” Prof. Taalas said.
The ESCAP Committee on Disaster Risk Reduction is charged with addressing the following issues: (a) emergence of cascading risks and extension of the disaster risk-scape; (b) scaling-up multisectoral cooperation frameworks to manage cascading risks; and (c) status of regional co-operation efforts.
WMO was represented in several expert group meetings, panel discussions and side events. WMO and ESCAP have a Memorandum of Understanding to work together to build resilience to climate and disaster risks and the promotion of impact-based early warning services and systems. The two organizations have a long history of cooperation by jointly establishing the Typhoon Committee.
Prof. Taalas stressed the importance of building capacity in Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States to adapt to climate change and build resilience, in particular through investments in early warning services.
However, major gaps in observing systems in many parts of the world, including islands and least developed countries in the Asia-Pacific region, have a negative impact on the quality of early warning services. WMO’s new initiative, the Systematic Observations Financing Facility (SOFF) seeks to close these gaps and leverage sustainable financing.
The Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC) and the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) have signed a Statement of Cooperation to strengthen the implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 (Sendai Framework), promote climate and disaster resilience, encourage knowledge sharing for informed decision-making, and improve risk governance across Asia and the Pacific.
ADPC and UNDRR reaffirmed their commitment to promote climate and disaster resilience as core components of risk-informed sustainable development. Both organizations will work together to enhance the dissemination of regional knowledge on disaster risk, address disaster damage and loss data challenges, and strengthen the analytical and evidence base for regional cooperation to implement the Sendai Framework and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
They will collaborate in scaling up the support to countries for the development and implementation of national and local disaster risk reduction strategies in line with national climate change adaptation and national development plans.
The Statement of Cooperation will also strengthen existing collaboration between ADPC and UNDRR in many areas, such as developing online courses on Sendai Framework Monitor, devising a COVID-19 Small Business Continuity and Recovery Planning Toolkit, and the development of disaster risk reduction status reports of countries in Asia and the Pacific.
Promoting transboundary disaster risk management is one of the key points of this Statement of Cooperation, thus both organizations will leverage their existing networks to promote transboundary risk management and fortify collaboration with other regional organizations.
The collaboration will in turn strengthen the implementation of the four Sendai Framework priorities for action and enhance the science-policy-practice interface in disaster risk reduction and climate resilience in Asia-Pacific and beyond.
The UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction, Mami Mizutori, today extended her condolences to all those affected by the current severe floods across Europe and urged greater investment in disaster risk reduction against a natural hazard which, until the arrival of COVID-19, has typically affected more people annually than any other disaster type.
“I send my heartfelt condolences to the people and governments of Germany and Belgium where lives have been lost and my sympathy is also with the people of the Netherlands, France, Luxembourg and Switzerland on the disruption caused by these record rains. Lives, homes, and livelihoods have been lost in a flood event of such magnitude that people had difficulty in comprehending what action they could take to protect themselves from it.
“Europe has seen major flooding before but rarely on this scale and with such harrowing loss of life. This underlines the importance of getting to grips with measures to adapt cities, towns and rural areas to the shocks that arise to our weather systems in a warming world. We need to make our urban areas more resilient to floods and storms to mitigate the impacts of large volumes of water and the landslides that usually accompany such phenomena.
“I am particularly concerned about media reports that in at least one incident nine persons living with disabilities lost their lives. National and local strategies for disaster risk reduction must take full account of the needs of such persons as well as others who may have mobility issues including older persons, children, and pregnant women. It is essential that disability organizations are involved in the disaster management planning process.
“While linking one disaster event with climate change is complicated, it is undoubtedly the case that over the last twenty years of record-breaking temperatures there has been a concomitant rise in the number of extreme weather events across the globe. The challenge before us is not just to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but to invest in adaptation to save lives, reduce economic losses and protect critical infrastructure.
“Europe will meet later this year in Portugal to discuss progress on implementing the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the global plan to reduce disaster losses. That discussion will be an opportunity to reflect on the lessons learned from the tragic events now unfolding across Europe due to record heavy rains and to see how we can better adapt to climate change, improve multi-hazard early warning systems and strengthen public understanding of disaster risk.”
Water-related hazards dominate the list of disasters in terms of both the human and economic toll over the past 50 years, according to a comprehensive analysis by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
Of the top 10 disasters, the hazards that led to the largest human losses during the period have been droughts (650 000 deaths), storms (577 232 deaths), floods (58 700 deaths) and extreme temperature (55 736 deaths), according to the forthcoming WMO Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather, Climate and Water Extremes (1970-2019).
With regard to economic losses, the top 10 events include storms (US$ 521 billion) and floods (US$ 115 billion), according to an excerpt from the Atlas, which will be published in September.
Floods and storms inflicted the largest economic losses in the past 50 years in Europe, at a cost of US$ 377.5 billion. The 2002 flood in Germany caused US$ 16.48 billion in losses and was the costliest event in Europe between 1970 and 2019. However, heatwaves had the highest human toll.
The data show that over the 50-year period, weather, climate and water hazards accounted for 50% of all disasters (including technological hazards), 45% of all reported deaths and 74% of all reported economic losses at global level.
“Weather, climate and water-related hazards are increasing in frequency and intensity as a result of climate change. The human and economic toll was highlighted with tragic effect by the torrential rainfall and devastating flooding and loss of life in central Europe and China in the past week, said WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas.
“Recent record-breaking heatwaves in North America are clearly linked to global warming,” said Prof. Taalas, citing a rapid attribution analysis that climate change, caused by greenhouse gas emissions, made the heatwave at least 150 times more likely to happen.
“But, increasingly, heavy rainfall episodes also bear the footprint of climate change. As the atmosphere gets warmer it holds more moisture which means it will rain more during storms, increasing the risk of floods,” said Prof. Taalas.
“No country – developed or developing – is immune. Climate change is here and now. It is imperative to invest more in climate change adaptation, and one way of doing this is to strengthen multi-hazard early warning systems.”
Water is the primary vehicle through which we feel the impacts of climate change. To effectively address both water and climate challenges, we must bring climate change and water to the same table – into the same conversation: Tackling them as one. This is why WMO is spearheading a new Water and Climate Coalition, a community of multi-sectoral actors, guided by high-level leadership and focused on integrated water and climate action, said Prof. Taalas.
Extreme rainfall events
The German national meteorological service, DWD, said up to two months worth of rainfall fell in 2 days (14 and 15 July) on soils that were already near saturation in the most affected regions of Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg. Switzerland and Austria were also hit by severe flooding.
According to DWD, about 100 to 150 mm of precipitation occurred in 24 hours between 14 and 15 July. The DWD weather station of Wipperfuerth-Gardeweg (North Rhine-Westphalia) recorded 162 mm followed by Cologne-Stammheim (North Rhine-Westphalia) with 160 mm, Kall-Sistig (North Rhine-Westphalia) with 152 mm and Wuppertal-Buchenhofen (North Rhine-Westphalia) with 151 mm. DWD issued timely and accurate early warnings.
Some parts of the central Chinese province of Henan received more accumulated rainfall between 17-21 July than the annual average. The national meteorological observation station in Zhengzhou reached 720 mm – compared to its annual average of 641 mm.
Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan, received the equivalent of half its annual rainfall in the space of six hours. The 6-hour rainfall was 382mm and from 16:00-17:00 on 20 July, the 1-hour rainfall in Zhengzhou exceeded 200mm.
More than 600 stations recorded precipitation over 250mm. The maximum precipitation was 728mm. The Henan Meteorological Service initiated the highest level emergency response to deal with the flooding.
An increasing number of studies are finding human influence on extreme rainfall events. One example is the extreme rainfall in eastern China in June and July 2016, where found that human influence significantly increased the probability of the event, with the signal less clear in a third peer review study published in the annual supplement to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.
Despite the ongoing tragedy, the death toll from extreme weather is generally falling because of improved early warnings and better disaster management. A high death toll from heatwaves in Europe in 2003 and 2010 ushered in new heat-health action plans and early warnings which have been credited with saving many lives in the most recent decade.
In Europe in total, 1 672 recorded disasters cumulated 159 438 deaths and US$ 476.5 billion in economic damages from 1970–2019. Although floods (38%) and storms (32%) were the most prevalent cause in the recorded disasters, extreme temperatures accounted for the highest number of deaths (93%), with 148 109 lives lost over the 50 years.
The two extreme heatwaves of 2003 and 2010 accounted for the highest number of deaths (80%), with 127 946 lives lost in the two events. These two events skew the statistics on the number of deaths in Europe. The 2003 heatwave was responsible for half of the deaths in Europe (45%) with a total of 72 210 deaths within the 15 affected countries, according to one of the chapters in the forthcoming Atlas.
Within Europe, the distribution of disasters by related hazard shows that riverine floods (22%), general storms (14%) and general floods (10%) were most prevalent hazards in Europe.
The WMO Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather, Climate and Water Extremes (1970-2019) (hereafter called Atlas), which will be published ahead of the United Nations General Assembly in September. The Atlas is based on the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters’ (CRED) Emergency Events Database (EM-DAT).
It is one of a series of WMO initiatives to provide decision-makers with scientifically-based information about the weather and climate extreme and the state of the global climate.
Heavy rainfall has triggered devastating flooding causing dozens of casualties in Western Europe. Parts of Scandinavia are enduring a lasting heatwave, and smoke plumes from Siberia have affected air quality across the international dateline in Alaska. The unprecedented heat in Western North America has also triggered devastating wildfires.
"Whilst rapid attribution studies have shown the clear link between human-induced climate change for the unprecedented heatwave episodes recorded in the Western United States and Canada, weather patterns over the whole northern Hemisphere have shown an unusual planetary wavy patterns in this summer. This has brought unprecedented heat, droughts, cold and wet conditions in various places. The connection of this large-scale disturbance of summer season with the warming of Arctic and the heat accumulation in the ocean needs to be investigated," said Dr Omar Baddour, head of WMO Climate Monitoring and Policy Division.
Some parts of Western Europe received up to 2 months worth of rainfall in 2 days on soils that were already near saturation. The top 1 meter of soil was completely saturated or well above field capacity after the intense rain in the most affected regions of Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg and Germany.
In terms of the human toll, Germany and Belgium were the worst hit countries by the floods in Europe. Authorities reported at least one hundred people were killed, with many more missing as people were trapped or swept away by waters. Images of collapsed houses and landlides showed the force of the waters.
While Central Europe suffered deadly floods, Northern Europe has been gripped by an extended heatwave
Finland had its warmest June on record, according to FMI. And the heat has extended into July. Kouvola Anjala, which is in southern Finland, has seen 27 consecutive days with temperatures above 25°C. This is the longest heatwave in Finland since at least 1961.
Western USA and Canada has also been gripped by heat, with many records broken in the most recent heatwave last weekend in SW USA. eg Las Vegas tied its all-time record of 117°F (47.2°C), as did Utah.
Death Valley, California had reported temperature of 130°F (54.4°C) 9 July, according to the US National Weather Service in Las Vegas. WMO is ready to verify new extreme temperatures We are currently evaluating 130°F reading in Aug 2020 at Death Valley, which holds world highest temperature record.
The megadrought conditions, very dry fuels and heatwaves are fuelling the occurrence of extreme wildfires this year in west USA, as well as western and central Canada.
Climate Change attribution
Climate change is already increasing the frequency of extreme weather events, and many single events have been shown to have been made worse by global warming.
The record-breaking heatwave in parts of the US and Canada at the end of June would have been virtually impossible without the influence of human-caused climate change, according to a rapid attribution analysis by an international team of leading climate scientists. Climate change, caused by greenhouse gas emissions, made the heatwave at least 150 times more likely to happen.
As the atmosphere gets warmer it holds more moisture which means it will rain more during storms, increasing the risk of floods.
The study, published in the journal Climatic Change, found that the higher the level of global warming, the projected increase in frequency or severity or both will be stronger for hot weather, droughts and flooding in the UK. These high-impact weather events can cause significant disruption across the UK affecting sectors such as health, transport, agriculture and energy.
IPCC Special Report Global Warming of 1.5°C mentions that human-induced global warming has already caused multiple observed changes in the climate system. Trends in intensity and frequency of some climate and weather extremes have been detected over time spans during which about 0.5°C of global warming occurred. Changes include increases in both land and ocean temperatures, as well as more frequent heatwaves in most land regions. Further, there is substantial evidence that human-induced global warming has led to an increase in the frequency, intensity and/or amount of heavy precipitation events at the global scale.
Several regional changes in climate are assessed to occur even with global warming up to 1.5°C as compared to pre-industrial levels, including warming of extreme temperatures in many regions, increases in frequency, intensity and/or amount of heavy precipitation in several regions.