Experts and politicians admit it is still too early to say whether global warming caused the devastating deluge – which has left more than 150 people dead in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands – but they say the destruction must be heeded as a warning of just how ruinous extreme weather will become.
"People are washed away,” said Diederik Samsom, a Dutch politician and environmentalist who is now a European Commission cabinet chief. “We are experiencing climate change.
"A few years ago, you had to point to a point in the future or far away on the planet to talk about climate change. It's happening now – here."
Climate scientists reckon two specific things have contributed to this week's calamity.
First, with every one degree Celsius rise in temperature, the air can take in 7 per cent more humidity. It can hold the water longer, leading to drought but also to an increased likelihood of massive rainfall once that water is released.
Second, global warming appears to be increasing the tendency for storms to hover over one place for far longer than previously – thus further dumping increasing amounts of rain on a smaller patch of the world.
Even if greenhouse gas emissions are drastically curbed in the coming decades, the amount of carbon dioxide and other planet-heating gases already in the atmosphere means extreme weather is going to become more likely, experts add.
"We need to make our built environment – buildings, outdoor spaces, cities – more resilient to climate change," said Lamia Messari-Becker, a professor of engineering at the University of Siegen.
Those that don't adapt will risk greater loss of life and damage to property, said Ernst Rauch, chief climate and geoscientist at the reinsurance giant Munich Re.
"The events of today and yesterday or so give us a hint that we need to do better with respect to being ready for these these type of events," he said. "The events themselves are not really unexpected, but the sort of the order of magnitude probably has surprised some."
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