Are droughts and heavy rains increasing?

In Germany, one of the consequences of climate change is the increase in heavy rains. Having said that, the number of consecutive days with no precipitation is also going up, especially in summer. Both are leading to an increase in hydroclimatic extremes that pose a threat, such as droughts and floods. Scientists predict that this trend will continue into the future.¹ According to data from Germany’s National Meteorological Service, the number of days with low soil moisture has already increased significantly since 1961. Germany’s northeast and the Rhine-Main region are being hit particularly hard by the increasing dryness of the soil.²

The dry years of 2018 and 2019 have no precedent in the past 250 years. Since 1766, Central Europe has not seen a two-year summer drought of this magnitude, which has affected more than 50 percent of the arable land.³ 49 In addition, the Drought Monitor of the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Leipzig shows that soil overall in Germany, down to an average depth of 1.80 meters, is experiencing the third consecutive year of drought during the vegetation period.⁴

Numerous sectors of the economy are feeling the effects of droughts, such as energy production and industry. During the extremely dry years of 2018 and 2019, for example, the water levels of the Rhine and Elbe rivers fell so sharply that, for weeks and even months, inland waterway vessels were only able to operate to a limited extent, if at all. Refineries and chemical plants had to reduce their production on the Rhine due to waterway transport restrictions,⁵ and because there was a lack of cooling water, the energy output of coal-fired and nuclear power plants was temporarily reduced.⁶ The affected industries suffered hundreds of millions of euros in economic damage.⁷

If climate change continues unchecked, scientists anticipate a dramatic increase in the risk of drought and all it entails. Global warming by a further three degrees Celsius would mean, for example, that periods of drought for parts of southwest Germany would double compared with the period from 1971 to 2000.⁸

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