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The summer storm season in Europe has begun.  On the weekend of June 30th, storms swept across Germany, leaving behind a path of destruction.  There were even some lives lost.  Dr Markus Adams, a natural catastrophe expert at Allianz Reinsurance, talks with allianz.com about the events, climate change and how to act during a storm.

 

Allianz Re
Singapore, Jul 05, 2012

"It is likely that we will experience more and heavy thunderstorms"

The summer storm season in Europe has begun.  On the weekend of June 30th, storms swept across Germany, leaving behind a path of destruction.  There were even some lives lost.  Dr Markus Adams, a natural catastrophe expert at Allianz Reinsurance, talks with allianz.com about the events, climate change and how to act during a storm.

All of Europe was affected by heavy storms, so how come the storms hit such a huge area? Are they all connected?

Markus Adams: Normally, such severe thunderstorms tend to be phenomena that are limited to a certain area. However, there are also certain weather conditions that can render the atmosphere above a rather larger area highly unstable, and such atmospheric conditions are exactly what we experienced last weekend.

On Saturday and Sunday a cold front extended diagonally across Germany - from Baden-Württemberg to Brandenburg, separating the hot and humid, rather unstable layers of air in southern Europe from the colder sea air above northwestern Europe. As this cold front advanced towards the sultry air, this triggered the development of many individual thunderstorm cells across a huge area, which then partly formed several large thunderstorm complexes. The "cores" of the most severe of these thunderstorms then brought torrential rain, hail and even severe wind gusts. It is possible that there were even some short-lived, locally rather limited tornadoes, but this still needs to be confirmed.

With which past events or with which regions can this kind of weather be compared?


Adams: Similar atmospheric conditions leading to thunderstorms can be seen rather frequently, although they usually tend to have much less of an impact. For instance there was the Munich hailstorm of 1984 that far exceeded this weekend's weather in terms of its geographical spread and the intensity of the damage caused in the loss areas. Comparable atmospheric conditions in the recent past caused, for instance, the devastating thunderstorm in the Bad Tölz-Rosenheim area (2001), the hailstorm in Leipzig (2006) and the hailstorm in Killertal (2008).

Does this mean that we need to be prepared for similar events for the rest of the summer? Is this climate change hitting us hard?

Adams: Long-term forecasts for more than two weeks in advance are still extremely uncertain, so it is difficult to make a reliable prediction for the rest of the summer. However, experience has shown that large-scale atmospheric conditions that develop towards the end of June and beginning of July, often tend to persist for quite some time (traditional weather lore has it that the weather on June 27 determines the weather for the rest of the summer). Using physical weather models, weather forecasts are possible for a period of 2 weeks maximum. The results of these weather models indicate that the current atmospheric conditions that are largely characterized by thunderstorms are likely to persist at least for the next 1-2 weeks. This is why it is likely that we will experience more and in certain parts doubtless heavy thunderstorms. Whether thunderstorms of the severity that we saw last weekend will occur again, can only be predicted at relatively short notice, at most 1-2 days in advance.

An isolated event like the one we experienced last weekend certainly cannot be attributed to climate change. We have also not yet seen the extent of damage exceeding our previous claims experience. In this respect, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) prognoses are still relatively uncertain, due to the complexity of climate modeling. However, the results we have so far indicate that as climate change progresses, it is not the frequency but rather the intensity of such summer thunderstorms that is likely to increase.

How can we protect ourselves better?

Adams: Unfortunately most victims did the wrong thing during a thunderstorm. After all, you can do quite a lot can be to protect yourself. Houses or cars offer the greatest protection against lightning strikes. However, if your house does not have a lightning protection system, it is safest to stay right in the middle of a room. If you are in a car, be sure to close the windows and to lower the radio antenna. If you are out in the open, avoid exposed areas like hills, peaks, ridges, individual rocks and isolated trees, no matter whether beech or oak, if possible, because lightning likes to strike precisely such areas. Isolated small huts or barns and shelters are also generally unsuitable.

If you are unable to find cover somewhere, it is best to crouch down in a hole with your feet closely together and legs tucked up under yourself.The safest places are inside forests at some distance to the edge. If there is a thunderstorm, you absolutely mustn't go for a swim. Instead, leave the water immediately and move away from the shore. If you happen to have some metal equipment with you such as bikes, you should leave them at some distance from yourself because metal attracts lightning.

To avoid being hit by falling trees or roof tiles while driving, it is advisable to stop at some distance from large trees or buildings and to wait for the thunderstorm to pass. Homeowners should secure items that can turn into flying debris such as garden furniture or sun blinds and to regularly check that there are no loose or broken tiles on their roofs. If necessary, repair them. Fixing roof tiles with storm clips has also proven very useful.

 

 

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