Worst storm in decades shows Europe is not immune to extreme weather events

A coastal house by the North Sea in the United Kingdom collapsed following the worst tidal surges in over 60 years.

By Anders Lorenzen

The United Kingdom (UK), The Netherlands, Germany and Denmark, all powerhouse economies of the EU and at least the three latter countries, all world leading in developing both climate policies and climate prevention methods, last week suffered badly from what in some countries has been the worst storm for decades and have invented a massive need for reinvestment in infrastructure and a big cost to the economies.

In Denmark, the situation has seemed to have hit the hardest, with some sources saying that it was a 1,000 year storm, meaning that we’re unlikely to see a storm of that magnitude more frequently than every 1,000 years. On the day of the storm, Denmark closed its bridges, halted its train services while most flights were cancelled and in many areas the Police had warned not to go out unless it was necessary. Anyone who knows Scandinavian geography, will know Denmark is one of Northern Europe’s lowest lying countries, only beaten by the Netherlands, and surrounded by the seas. It is incredibly vulnerable to flooding and Thursday’s storm was no exception. In certain coastal parts water levels reached between 1.3 and 1.8 metres above normal levels. Apart from the financial costs of rebuilding infrastructure, industry and housing forests have also been one of the victims of the storm with over half a million trees having come down.

In the UK, the storm prompted the worst tidal surges to have hit for over 60 years, with North Sea tides reaching higher levels than devastating floods back in 1953. This caused several cliff homes by the North Sea coast to collapse, while communities in towns near the North Sea coast  heroically tried to save houses (many uninsured) from flooding and water damage. In London, the Thames Barrier was closed to protect Londoners from flooding. The storm occurs in the wake of the UK government facing criticism from NGO’s that in their extended austerity cuts spending on flood defences have been severely cut back. But Environment Minister, Owen Patterson, who previously stated that he is sceptical about climate change, said that we’re only likely to see these kind of storms every 500 years, and defended his spending on flood defences saying that 800,000 homes were now protected from flooding.

The storm which as well as flooding caused by gale force winds also brought with it snow, apart from Denmark and the UK, also hit parts of Sweden, Germany, The Netherlands and Poland. Europe Wide the storm claimed seven lives. Though the financial cost is not yet known, countries are expecting the bill to be high. Campaigners would say that this is further evidence that we don’t have time nor can afford to gamble in not preparing for climate change. With Haiyan the worst typhoon to have ever made landfall hit the Philippines a month ago, a month earlier the St Jude had hit the UK, climate scientists appear to be right we’re seeing a growing increase in extreme weather events that becomes more extreme and more frequent – even in Europe.

Sub edited by Charlotte Paton

Related news:
Europe hit by Extreme Weather
Guest blog: 32.8 Million Displaced in 2012 as a result of climate and weather related events
Is extreme weather making a case for renewables?

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