Extreme event loomed days before the flood

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Extreme event loomed days before the flood


After the flood disaster in Germany in July, witnesses are now being interviewed. One of the first is weather expert Jörg Kachelmann.


Jörg Kachelmann comes to the investigation committee in Düsseldorf about the flood disaster in North Rhine-Westphalia in mid-July.


© Photo: Rolf Vennenbernd (Keystone)
Jörg Kachelmann comes to the investigation committee in Düsseldorf about the flood disaster in North Rhine-Westphalia in mid-July.


According to the weather expert Jörg Kachelmann, an extreme weather event for the southwest of North Rhine-Westphalia was already apparent days before the flood disaster. On Monday, July 12th, according to the weather models, it was actually known that something big was going to happen, said Kachelmann on Friday evening during his two-hour questioning as a witness in the investigative committee of the NRW state parliament on the flood in Düsseldorf.

The weather models had already confirmed the great risk of extreme weather conditions with very large amounts of rain on that Monday, after they had provided clear indications of extreme weather conditions due to heavy and continuous rain in North Rhine-Westphalia on Sunday. Kachelmann described the unusual weather constellation in July: that humid air masses had been pressed against the Eifel from the northeast instead of the west, that a very large area had been under heavy rain, that the ground was no longer absorbent.

“The information was all there,” emphasized Kachelmann. Why had the authorities not informed people that something was coming that they had not yet seen? died. There could have been evacuations. “We always have enough time.” If the events were to be repeated, no one would have to die.

“That is the good news, if there is good news: You can prevent it,” said Kachelmann to the members of the state parliament. In extreme weather conditions, nobody should go to sleep.

“In extreme weather conditions, nobody is allowed to go to sleep.”

When Kachelmann was finally informed about the possible reimbursement of costs for his effort to interview witnesses, he explained that the money should rather be donated to a victim fund.

The weather expert warned by tweet on July 13th at noon that it would “possibly be time to gradually prepare people for a flood scenario, both officially and in the media”. The following night the first floods occurred.

A few days before the flood disaster, according to the British expert Hannah Cloke, the European flood warning system EFAS gave an initial indication of a possible extreme event in the Rhineland. On July 10, 2021, EFAS forecast a flood that occurs once every 20 years with a probability of 22 percent for the Rhine basin, said the hydrology professor.

“When so many people die, we have to admit that the system as a whole has failed.”

This information was still uncertain, but you should be particularly careful in such a case, she explained. That is the time when the national competent authorities look at some additional information in order to get a clearer picture of the situation. She has no indication of how the information made available by EFAS was ultimately used by the relevant national and local authorities. EFAS partners received warnings. They could then independently access the warning system’s web portal and continue working there.

“When so many people die, we have to admit that the system has failed as a whole,” the expert reiterated the criticism she had already expressed. She emphasized that this criticism did not relate to certain areas of the system in North Rhine-Westphalia. They did not investigate how the individual parts worked in the wake of the flood disaster in July.

The committee of inquiry in the state parliament of North Rhine-Westphalia came about with the votes of the opposition MPs from the SPD and the Greens. The committee is to investigate possible failures, omissions or misjudgments by the CDU / FDP state government and subordinate authorities in connection with the devastating flood in mid-July with 49 deaths in North Rhine-Westphalia. In the spring of 2022, a public report on the findings available up to that point is to be submitted to the state parliament. There are state elections in May 2022.

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