At least one person was dead and another went missing on Wednesday after severe thunderstorms hit villages in southern Austria overnight, with record rains pushing rivers over their banks and shutting some communities off from recovery efforts.
The storms came in overnight from Italy and Slovenia, along Austria’s southern border, said Michael Tiefgraber, a meteorologist with Austria’s national weather service, the Central Institute of Meteorology and Geodynamics. About 5.5 inches (nearly 14 centimeters) of rain fell for more than seven hours before waning around 9 a.m. local time, he said.
A river near Arriach, a village of about 1,500 inhabitants, has been flooded in several parts and the road to the village has been completely destroyed in several places, national broadcaster ORF reports. A hydroelectric power station just outside Arriach was “seriously damaged,” the operator said.
The village, about 20 miles north of Austria’s border with Slovenia, had no electricity or mobile phone, complicating efforts to rescue or help residents, Mr Tiefgraber said.
At least one death was reported, in the nearby village of Treffen, where firefighters said the body of an 82-year-old man was found after being swept away by the flooding.
ORF reported that the Pöllinger Bach, which is normally a creek, had ripped through Treffen, carrying debris, logs and “few yards” of mud. One hundred Austrian army soldiers were on the scene with heavy machinery to help clean up.
It was a record for the most rain that fell in a single event in the Austrian state of Carinthia, said Gerhard Hohenwarter, a meteorologist. The previous record, set in June 1969, was 4.2 inches over a 20-hour period, he said.
The region experienced unusually high temperatures in June, Mr Hohenwarter said.
“Warmer air can hold more moisture than dry air, and then you need the perfect environment to release it,” he said. “Now these thunderstorms are really very severe and very strong.”
While it’s not possible to immediately link one heavy downpour to climate change, scientists can try that by conducting what’s called an attribution study over the next few weeks or months.
Last year, after deadly summer floods hit Germany and Belgium, scientists found that the record rainfall that led to the floods was a 400-year event, meaning there was a 1 in 400 chance of such a downpour in the United States in any given year. region.
The analysis showed that such an event, while rare, is now 1.2 to 9 times more likely than it was over a century ago due to the release of heat-trapping gases from human activity.
Christine Hauser reported from London, and Christopher F. Schuetze from Berlin.