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How the New Danube protects Vienna from catastrophic floods

Built in the 1970s, the value of the New Danube has been driven home this week, where it has helped Vienna avert a flooding catastrophe.

How the New Danube protects Vienna from catastrophic floods
The Donau Canal (right) seen aside from the Donau. Photo By Bwag - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 at,

While rivers burst their banks across the country and several areas were hard hit, Vienna managed to escape the worst. 

On Sunday and Monday, the Danube (Donau) river flowed over its banks, but instead of flooding Vienna’s historic streets, it flowed into the New Danube – the channel built in the 1970s to protect the city of Vienna. 

“The “New Danube” is flooded so that the Danube does not overflow in Vienna.  The New Danube and the Danube Island were built in the 1970s for this purpose.”

While a number of basements were flooded and nightclub U4 was inundated and needed to be shut down, the majority of the city avoided a major catastrophe. 

What is the New Danube?

The New Danube is a side channel built into the Danube river. The design of the channel was made in 1969, with construction taking place from 1972 to 1988. 

The Donauinsel (Danube Island) is 21 kilometres long and now sits in the middle of the two waterways and was constructed from rocks and dirt dredged out of the river. 

The International Knowledge Centre for Engineering Sciences and Technology reports that few areas of the city were protected from large floods. 

“Vienna was over many centuries subject to severe flooding. Only the very oldest parts of town, where the roman fort was once established were flood free.”

Catastrophic flooding events took place in 1897 and 1899, which led to smaller scale changes to try and reduce damage. 

The idea for the channel gained momentum after 1954, when another catastrophic flood hit Vienna and authorities realised that a more drastic change was needed to properly protect the city from flooding. 

How does it work? 

At the entrance to the New Danube channel, there is an openable weir which stops water from the Danube from entering. 

In normal times, the weir seals off the channel which makes it perfect for swimming and other water activities, while facilities were built on the land to allow for volleyball, skating, jogging and other activities. 

Up to 300,000 people can use the area each day. 

The entrance weir to the Donau Canal. Photo By User:My Friend – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0. 

The weir is so popular some people use it to commute to work, giving it the nickname “the autobahn for swimmers”. 

When the water level rises in the main river, the gates are released to reduce pressure on the main part of the river and allow water into the channel. 

As has happened in 2021 with the high water levels, this will usually mean swimming, boating and other water activities are banned in the channel. 

There are two other weirs further down in the channel which help to regulate water level during non-flood periods. 

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What are the chances of a white Christmas in Austria this year?

Yes, it's a bit early for Christmas weather forecasts, but it hasn't stopped meteorologists making predictions. Here's what they have to say about the possibility of snow in Austria this Christmas.

What are the chances of a white Christmas in Austria this year?

In less than a month it will be Christmas Eve and the suspense is rising on whether there will be a white Christmas, especially at low altitudes, broadcaster ORF said.

The weather models do not yet reach that far, but ORF Vorarlberg meteorologist Thomas Rinderer has looked at the statistics in a bid to predict the snowfall this year.

FOR MEMBERS: Everything that changes in Austria in December 2022

On average, there is a white Christmas in Bregenz every three to six years. The last time was in 2011, so statistically speaking, a white Christmas in the Rhine Valley would be more than overdue.

However, the first long-term forecasts see a relatively mild winter overall, so it’s unlikely that an extremely cold winter is imminent. This follows the warmest October in Austria since records began although, according to ORF meteorologists, “surprises are still possible”.

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This is because even in a mild winter there can still be a lot of snow. 

The Copernicus climate change service of the EU is predicting winter will be dry from France to Germany, but the Mediterranean area will be humid. This can lead to precipitation moving up from Italy into Austria where it’s likely to become snow.

Last year, some parts of Austria (especially in the west) enjoyed a white Christmas after a cold December and plenty of snowfall. This year, many regions in the Alps are already coated in snow although temperatures are set to rise next week.

We’ll keep you updated on the forecasts in the coming weeks.