More floods and slides in the forecast

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Norwegian researchers and meteorologists are once again warning of more torrential rain, floods and landslides in the years to come. Extreme weather will be common by the year 2100,  they say, also in areas where landslides and flooding currently are not.

Landslides like this will become far more common in Norway, predict researchers, also in areas where slides haven’t been a problem. PHOTO: Norges Røde Kors

“It’s just going to get worse over the whole country,” Bernt G Apeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Red Cross, told state broadcaster NRK on Friday, after a recent spate of sudden, heavy rains that turned deadly in the mountainous area of Jølster in Western Norway. “We’re going to see more violent weather with more rain, more floods, more landslides and more destruction.”

He was basing his dire predictions on new research conducted for the Red Cross. The researchers at Norsk Klimaservicesenter, backed by colleagues at Norway’s Meteorologisk Institutt and state waterways and energy directorate NVE, are offering detailed effects of climate change around Norway for the years from 2071 to 2100.

Can’t handle all the water
Flooding from more frequent periods of unusually heavy rain pose the most damage potential in Norwegian towns and cities, and the most damage to state infrastructure. Hydrologist Irene Brox Nilsen at NVE said the heavy rains will continue to unleash more landslides and inundate areas with mud.

“The climate changes will cost more lives, through floods and slides that will occur at times and places where we’re not accustomed to them,” Apeland said. While residents of Western Norway, with its steep mountainsides and vulnerability to storms sweeing in from the sea, have always had to live with slide and flood danger, it will become more common in other areas as well.

Longtime residents of Skjåk, Signe and Thorvald Bakken, had to be rescued with a tractor after major flooding that followed heavy rain last year. Experts claim preparedness must be improved to ensure that those most vulnerable get the help they need. PHOTO: Norges Røde Kors

The new study, to be formally presented next week at an annual gathering of top politicians and non-governmental organizations in Arendal, offers forecasts for every county in Norway and detailed predictions for specific areas within the counties. All are expected to suffer much wetter and wilder weather, while those along the coast will also experience rising sea levels as Arctic ice continues to melt. The Arctic archipelago of Svalbard that Norway administers is expected to be nine degrees warmer than it already is by 2100.

The Red Cross’ main message is that preparedeness must be improved. “This summer’s deadly and destructive slides, and last summer’s drought followed by major floods have shown us that both the authorities and volunteer organizations must boost efforts to prevent and prepare for disasters all over the country,” Apeland said.

Norway, he said, must be prepared for much more serious consequences of extreme weather: “We fear more people will be killed by floods, slides and extreme weather in the years to come.”

Reminder of the urgency to cut emissions
The report follows urgent calls from the United Nations this week to keep cutting carbon emissions and restructure food production and consumption. It’s another reminder, claims State Secretary Sveinung Rotevatn in the government ministry for climate and environment issues, of the need to cut emissions and prepare for ongoing climate change.

“This is about saving lives, health and buildings,” Rotevatn told NRK. Asked whether Norway is prepared, he said “we’re working to prepare us for this. We’re now working on an extensive charting of all local municipalities to find out where they’re most vulnerable to floods and slides, and make sure nothing is built there.”

Many residents of Jølster and Gloppen that were hit hard by the recent extreme weather have said they’re afraid to move home again, even though their houses survived nearby slides. “Those of us from Vestlandet are used to  rain, but what’s new is that so much is coming all at once in very limited areas,” Rotevatn said. “That creates high risk for slides, and we’re not prepared for that everywhere. The slides are a reminder of how dangerous climate change can be.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund