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Rain, Rain, Go Away

Violent storms have been raging across Europe in the last week, leaving a trail of death and destruction. Scientists are blaming the unusually harsh weather conditions on the phenomenon El Nino and global warming.


Rainfall ruins many a German beach vacation this summer

Although August is traditionally a warm and sunny month in Europe, the last week has seen an unusually high rainfall and unseasonable storms. In the past few days, erratic weather patterns have caused severe floods and wrecked havoc and chaos in otherwise mild tourist regions.

One of the worst hit regions is Russia’s Black Sea tourist resorts. Over the last two days, rescue workers have been battling muddy torrents surging through the towns after heavy rains and a violent tornado left at least 50 people dead and hundreds of tourists stranded.

The Russian television network NTV said more than 1,500 people had been evacuated from the region. Camp sites were devastated, at least 100 houses were swept away and 20 bridges wiped out in the second wave of fatal flooding to hit southern Russia in two months.

In central and eastern Europe, flooding and storms are thought to be responsible for killing seven people in Romania, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic. Torrential rains and swollen rivers have also brought chaos to Austria, Italy and Germany, which are suffering some of the worst weather conditions in over a century.

Heavy rainfall in southern Germany

Towns in the southwestern German state of Baden-Württemberg are among those hardest hit. In a matter of hours, the Neckar River rose some two and a half meters over its banks. In the city of Reutlingen, several neighborhoods were inundated, with hundreds of basements and garages flooded. And in Wannweil, even the fire station stood under water, preventing rescue crews from mobilizing their units.

The continuing rainfall has made it difficult for clean-up crews to begin their work. On Sunday morning the skies dried out a little bit, allowing for storm warnings to be lifted, but the German Weather Service forecasts even more rain for Sunday evening.

No escaping the rain

Tourists hoping to escape the bad weather by heading to Italy and Spain were bitterly disappointed this past week. Sun-seekers on Spain’s Mediterranean island of Majorca were forced to seek shelter from hail and heavy rain. Beach cafes and restaurants were flooded, and several coastal resorts were closed up against the storms.

In Italy, severe storms and downpours disrupted transportation and damaged buildings in Rome. Firefighters were on call to pump out flooded basements and prevent some of the worst disasters. And on the island of Capri, houses and a shopping center have been engulfed in a mudslide.

With a new storm front on the horizon for Sunday, a return to the sunny and dry conditions normally associated with Mediterranean summers is still a ways off.

El Nino and global warming to blame

Scientists and meteorologists in Europe and Asia are blaming the unusual weather conditions on El Nino. The weather phenomena, which is connected to a warming of water temperatures in the eastern Pacific Ocean, has a cause-and-effect relationship on weather patterns on the other side of the globe.

When the temperatures in one region rise significantly, wind and water currents alter, creating a change or disturbance in weather patterns elsewhere. Five years ago scientists in Australia blamed El Nino for a severe drought in Southeast Asia. This year they say it’s returned to wreck havoc on other regions.

In Europe, the climate change is not so much felt through draught, but rather through an excess of rain. Dr. Mojb Latif from the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, in an interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung, says the increase in extreme weather conditions not only in Germany but worldwide is a key indicator of global climate change.

Latif points to statistics gathered by the German Weather Service since 1879, which show a parallel between the gradual rise in temperature and an increase in rainfall. Especially alarming is the increase in number of days with extreme downpours in the last 100 years, he says. These extreme conditions, along with more rainfall in winter and a shrinking of alpine glaciers, are a sign that global warming, or the greenhouse effect, is at play.

"We are at a turning point," Latif warns. "The global climate has already warmed up, and because the system is so slow to change, once this development gets underway, it’s hard to stop." The pessimistic forecast: more bad weather in the years to come.

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