Xaver: Three cheers for prevention!

Winter storms such as "Xaver" have become increasingly frequent in central Europe. most recently the region fell victim to Cyclone "Christian" at the end of October. In general, damage levels have increased in recent decades, mainly because of socio-economic factors. In coastal regions in particular, the concentration of assets is increasing rapidly across the globe. For instance, assets in areas of New York that are prone to flooding have more than doubled in the last 50 years. This development is especially fast-paced in Asian metropolitan areas. Dr. Markus Stowasser, climate expert at Allianz SE, in an interview with allianz.com.

 

Allianz.com: How do improved protective measures contribute to keeping damage low?
 

Markus Stowasser: Quite a lot. Hamburg is a good example. In the 18th century the dikes along the river Elbe were at 5.2 meters above sea level. Following a strong storm tide in 1825, they were increased to 5.7 meters and were able to withstand another strong storm tide in 1855. Only in 1962, after a phase of relative calm that lasted over 100 years, another extremely severe storm surge occurred. Although the floods only reached a level of approx. 5 meters, many protection devices failed. Since people were no longer aware of the danger, they had neglected the maintenance of the protection devices. After the storm tide, the dikes were raised to 7.2 meters and were then able to withstand the storm tide of 1976, which was even stronger, reaching 6.5 meters. The storm tide for Xaver, too, was unable to pass the protection devices that had been built even higher in the meantime.
 

Will we remember "Xaver" as one of the particularly strong storms of our times, like Cyclone Quimburga from 1972 or the flood in Hamburg from 1962?
 

Compared to other storms, Xaver's wind speeds were not unusual. However, the storm lasted for an extremely long time. In combination with a north-west wind, this resulted in a very severe storm tide, not only along the northern German coast, but also along Great Britain's east coast. Here, some measuring stations recorded higher sea levels than during the catastrophic flood of 1953. Here, too, improved protective measures and warning systems were able to prevent even worse damage.

Markus Stowasser: "Even if no such trend has been proven for European winter storms so far, studies using climate models indicate that the potential for damage in central Europe as a result of extreme storms in particular will increase in future."
Markus Stowasser: "Even if no such trend has been proven for European winter storms so far, studies using climate models indicate that the potential for damage in central Europe as a result of extreme storms in particular will increase in future."
Xaver: Three cheers for prevention!, Picture by: Jonas Rogowski | Titel: storm Xaver in Warnemünde, 2013| License: CC BY 3.0

Storm Xaver in Warnemünde.

Picture by: Jonas Rogowski | Title: storm Xaver in Warnemünde, 2013 | Lizenz: CC BY 3.0

Silent Night, stormy night?
 

Will the people in central Europe have to expect more such storms in future as a result of climate change?
 

Even if no such trend has been proven for European winter storms so far, studies using climate models indicate that the potential for damage in central Europe as a result of extreme storms in particular will increase in future. However, such projections are still subject to great uncertainty. Undoubtedly, however, sea levels have been rising as a result of climate change - and efforts will need to be made across generations to continue to improve our protection devices.
 

In future, will Europe see more stormy Christmases than white ones? Will storms become a standard winter weather phenomenon?
 

Even today a green Christmas is much more likely than a white one, and storms have become a normal weather phenomenon.

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Christiane Merkel
Allianz SE
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