John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
This monumental dousing has been called Europe's worst flood since the Middle Ages.
How bad is the historic flooding that's turning Europe into a certain terrific Kevin Costner flick? Take a look at these images captured by the Landsat 8 satellite that NASA featured today along with a nifty, sliding comparison tool. The first is from May 6 and shows the farmland around the city of Wittenberg, population 50,000:
What a nice, docile-looking river. It's the Elbe – a major European waterway that meanders through the lowlands of Germany and the Czech Republic. See if you recognize the same river in this shot from June 7:
The blue rivulet is gone, replaced with a massive watery boa the color of milky coffee. When this photo was taken, the Elbe was swollen to a height of 22 feet, prompting workers in Wittenberg to make a defensive perimeter of sandbags around town. Yesterday, German police had to shut down the city center in anticipation of the Elbe soon cresting.
This monumental dousing has drawn comparisons to the terrible European flood of 2002, supposedly a "once in a century" event. But meteorologist Jeff Masters has noted that in some places in Germany this year's flooding is worse – the Danube River rose to its highest recorded level since 1501, and the Saale also broke a record that was set 400 years ago.
Zooming in, here's Wittenberg again in May:
And the same area last week:
Nutso. The flooding, caused partly by an unusual weather pattern that's dumped torrents of rain over Europe, has smashed down dykes and reportedly killed at least 23 people. The costs of cleaning up after this mess is likely to be in the billions of euros.
Images courtesy of NASA / U.S. Geological Survey