'Devastating disaster': Study links climate change and horrific flood that killed thousands

Thousands of people died in a horrific flood in Libya earlier this month, a tragedy that was worsened by human-caused climate change, a study released Tuesday found.

In fact, the warming world made the Libyan disaster 50 times more likely, with "building in flood plains, poor dam maintenance and other local factors turning the extreme weather into a humanitarian disaster," the study said.

Julie Arrighi, director at the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, said “this devastating disaster shows how climate change-fueled extreme weather events are combining with human factors to create even bigger impacts, as more people, assets and infrastructure are exposed and vulnerable to flood risks."

TOPSHOT - A boy pulls a suitcase past debris in a flash-flood damaged area in Derna, eastern Libya, on September 11, 2023. Flash floods in eastern Libya killed more than 2,300 people in the Mediterranean coastal city of Derna alone, the emergency services of the Tripoli-based government said on September 12. (Photo by AFP) (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images) ORIG FILE ID: AFP_33UV7CW.jpg

The study was prepared by the World Weather Attribution (WWA) group, which does quick analyses of weather and climate events to determine what, if any, role human-caused climate change may have had.

How storms led to disaster

In early September, a storm that affected Spain and a separate system named Storm Daniel, which formed in the eastern Mediterranean, brought "large amounts of rain over a 10-day period to several countries, including Spain, Greece, Bulgaria, Turkey and Libya.

"The heavy rain led to massive floods across the region, killing four people in Bulgaria, five in Spain, seven in Turkey, and 17 in Greece." according to a statement from the WWA.

However, the greatest disaster occurred in Libya, where the floods caused the collapse of two dams. The exactnumber of casualties is still not clear as the death toll has varied, with government officials and aid agencies giving tallies ranging from about 4,000 to 11,000 dead.

Meteorologists say Storm Daniel was a particularly potent "medicane," which is shorthand for Mediterranean tropical-like cyclone.

The role of climate change

The scientists in the new study found that human-caused climate change made the disaster in Libya up to 50 times more likely to happen, with up to 50% more rain during the period, as a result of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.

Scientists used established peer-reviewed methods to determine the contribution of climate change to the floods.

Overall, according to the WWA, the event is still "extremely unusual," and can only be expected to occur around once in 300-600 years, in the current climate.

In Libya, "a combination of several factors – including long-lasting armed conflict, political instability, potential design flaws and poor maintenance of dams – all contributed to the disaster." The interaction of these factors, and the very heavy rain that was worsened by climate change, created the extreme death and destruction, the study said.

'Bad luck' and how climate change is 'loading the dice'

According to Yale Climate Connections' meteorologist Jeff Masters, who was not part of the study but wrote about the connection between climate change and Libya last week, the "flood disaster was driven in part by the meteorological bad luck of Daniel coming ashore directly atop a compact zone of higher elevation.

"That’s only part of the story, though. Human-induced climate change is loading the dice, enhancing the ability of tropical cyclones and similar storms to produce extreme rain as they draw more water vapor out of oceans into a warming atmosphere."

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Climate change had huge role in Libya flooding, study says