FLASH FLOODSAs Unprecedented Rainfalls Occur More Frequently, What Can Be Done About the Resulting Flash Floods?

By Stuart Braun, Martin Kuebler, and Tim Schauenberg

Published 13 July 2023

Record rainfall is wreaking havoc in northern India and New York state as flash floods inundate communities. Experts have called for better resilience through ‘weatherproofing.’

Unprecedented rainfall has triggered flash flooding in countries from the US to India, China, the UK and Spain in the past days. 

22 people were killed as floods collapsed a bridge and destroyed numerous dwellings in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh on Sunday.

Over the weekend, an extremely heavy start to the monsoon meant many districts in the northern state received a month’s rainfall in a day. The deluge was also responsible for landslides in Pakistan — a senior weather department official told Reuters.

More heavy rain is also predicted says the department, with flooded roads, traffic jams and power cuts expected across the region.

Record Heat Brings Record Rains’
Strong rainfall also sparked floods that swamped and closed roads in New York’s Hudson Valley on Sunday night. At least one person was killed. 

Bryan Jackson, a meteorologist with the US National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center, told Reuters that a weather pattern more typical of cooler months had built to the north and was interacting with regular summer moisture.

Pennsylvania and southern New York state were most impacted by the rain on Sunday, but the weather service was predicting widespread and extreme flash flooding in parts of the state of New England on Monday.

We expect considerable to locally catastrophic impacts,” Jackson said. The weather service has urged people in vulnerable areas to immediately seek higher ground.

Days before, flash floods in the northeastern Spanish city of Zaragoza led to cars being swept down deluged streets. The footage went viral.

Warmer air can carry more water vapor. Record heat brings record rains brings record floods,” tweeted Eric Holthaus, a US-based meteorologist and climate journalist, who also noted that temperatures could top 47 degrees Celsius (116.6 Fahrenheit) in Spain this week.

Heavy summer storms also sparked flash floods in the northern UK city of Sheffield on July 9. 

Building Resilience to Floods
With record floods in countries from Germany to Pakistan linked to a worsening climate crisis, how can communities better adapt to limit the damage?

Speaking to DW following the 2021 flooding that claimed at least 200 lives in western Europe, Lamia Messari-Becker, a civil engineering professor focused on sustainable building and design at Germany’s University of Siegen, said in adapting buildings to withstand floodwaters, it is worth looking at earthquake-resistant architecture.

In such buildings, the depth of the foundation, structural design and construction materials are specifically chosen to be able to handle extreme flooding. 

We need to reinforce basements so that they can also fill up with water and people can quickly get to safety,” Messari-Becker said. “It’s also about the reinforcing measures needed for outer walls, for roofs.”