For about ten years, part of the Netherlands has been plagued by so-called downpours: localised, extreme precipitation, sometimes as much as a hundred millimetres in a few hours.
Last July, Limburg and parts of Belgium and Germany were startled by an entirely different phenomenon: a weather system. In a very large area, sometimes half the size of the Netherlands, an enormous amount of precipitation fell in one or two days. This results in socially disruptive effects: enormous damage, and unfortunately also victims, even fatalities.
What many people do not know is that the Limburg weather system is not unique. In the past 25 years, it has occurred twice before: once in Zuid-Holland and once in the Achterhoek. And as a result of climate change, these types of weather systems are becoming more common. Every Dutchman under thirty who lives a long life is going to experience something like this in his or her lifetime.
Warning of weather systems
There are also bright spots: in stark contrast to the aforementioned downpours, weather systems can be predicted well by meteorologists. The weather system that hit Limburg in July of last year was already included in KNMI's weather forecast two days in advance. This means we can prepare ourselves. For example, by using a 'water alert' to inform residents that a severe weather event is imminent, so that they can store valuables in the attic. Or even, in certain areas, advising them to temporarily leave their homes because of the expected rapid and deep water flows and therefore truly dangerous situations.
This requires good preparation and central coordination by various authorities: water boards, safety regions, municipalities and emergency services.
Hydrologists (water experts who understand better than anyone how water flows through streams, rivers, ditches and the subsoil) will have to work together and coordinate with weather experts even better than they do now, so that it is known in time that a weather system is heading for a certain area and it is clear where dangerous water flows will occur. In fact, a Weather & Flood Warning System with which we try to prevent as much misery as possible in advance.
Prevention is better
We do not know for sure whether weather systems as they have occurred in recent years are the result of climate change. What we do know is that they will become more frequent as a result of climate change. So it is important that we all work together to prevent further climate change by, for example, eating less meat, using the bicycle or public transport more often and avoiding cars and aeroplanes. Only together, if we all take responsibility, will we be able to prevent extreme weather conditions from causing damage and casualties every year.
More information on research into the occurrence and consequences of weather systems can be found on the Deltares website:
Read previous articles on sea level rise here!