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Climate crisis For Members

How prepared is Austria for extreme weather events?

Amanda Previdelli
Amanda Previdelli - [email protected]
How prepared is Austria for extreme weather events?
A man walks on the dried out lake bottom of the Zicksee in St. Andrae am Zicksee in Burgenland, Austria. The country has faced droughts, heatwaves, severe storms and floods as weather becomes more extreme. (Photo by Alex HALADA / AFP)

Extreme weather events caused an estimated €1 billion of damage in Austria last year, and they are likely to occur even more frequently in the future.

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As the world grapples with the intensifying effects of climate change, Austria, like many other nations, is facing an increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events. 

Floods, droughts, heatwaves, and wildfires are becoming more common, posing significant threats to the country's infrastructure, economy, and environment. Austria has already faced severe weather events, and heatwaves are becoming more a part of summer months, as well as floods and severe storms

According to a study by the Association of Insurance Companies (VVO), the Austrian Road Safety Board (KFV) and GeoSphere Austria, extreme weather events caused damage amounting to €1 billion in Austria in 2023.

"Record-breaking events such as the high temperatures in 2023 are increasingly becoming the new normal.

"There must, therefore, be a faster socio-political rethink because extreme weather events and natural disasters lead to high ecological and economic damage, which we can no longer turn a blind eye to. We expect a sharp increase in damage events," said Rémi Vrignaud, President of the Austrian Insurance Association VVO, in a press release.

So, how prepared are people in Austria for extreme weather events?

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Why is Austria failing to reach its climate targets?

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Weather warnings

Austria has an advanced system of warnings led by the country's GeoSphere Austria. "Our regular verification shows a high level of accuracy in the warnings. This is very important for the acceptance and behaviour of the population," said Dr Andreas Schaffhauser, Scientific Director General of GeoSphere Austria. 

He added: "The better and more comprehensible warnings of major weather events are, the more seriously they are taken and the greater the chance that people will respond to them."

Austria follows a traditional weather warning system consisting of three colours: yellow, orange, and red.

A yellow warning means caution (Vorsicht!). It means that caution in the current weather scenario is urged, but only isolated weather-connected endangerment and/or damages are anticipated.

An orange warning means attention (Achtung!!) as the current weather scenario can lead to endangerment, disturbances in everyday life and damages. People should pay close heed to the ongoing weather forecasts.

Finally, a red warning means danger (Gefahr!!!). In this case, the current weather scenario is expected to lead to extensive endangerment, disturbances of everyday life and/or considerable damage. People should pay close heed to the ongoing weather forecasts and comply with the instructions of the Civil Defence. 

Each warning is usually issued for one or more weather conditions such as wind, rain, snow, black ice, thunderstorm, heat stress and cold stress.

READ ALSO: What is Austria's official emergency-warning phone app and do I need it?

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Self-preparation

According to the GeoSphere Austria study, the general population in Austria lacks preparation for possible disasters. Without outside support, the majority of the population would only have enough food for one to three days, they stated.

However, the topic is still on people's minds, as Austrians are concerned about extreme weather. There are also regional differences. Concerns about flooding dominate in several federal states such as Styria, Carinthia, Upper Austria, Salzburg, Tyrol and Vorarlberg, while possible heatwaves are an issue in Vienna and Burgenland.

READ ALSO: Reader question: What are the chances of a blackout in Austria?

The majority of Austrians (69 percent) are concerned "that natural disasters will increase due to climate change".

At the same time, an even larger proportion (79 percent) are "prepared to do without certain things to slow down climate change", as the Director of the KFV, Christian Schimanofsky, emphasised.

The experts highlighted tips on prevention and correct behaviour in the event of a disaster. For example, people should check with local authorities whether there are evacuation plans and follow weather forecasts regularly to find out about impending severe weather warnings. 

Additionally, the study suggested that people keep bottled water and non perishable foods that can last for around 14 days. A supply of batteries and copies of documents and important photos should be kept digitally or analogically in waterproof covers. 

Finally, there is specific advice in the case of flooding. People should seek shelter in the higher areas of buildings. Never go to basement areas where doors can no longer be opened due to water pressure - and where floods can happen quickly. Another tip is to close the windows and lower the shutters.

READ ALSO: Wild weather in Austria: How to protect yourself during summer storms

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What about our buildings? 

Higher temperatures hit different countries differently - and Austria will suffer more than other places due to the way houses are traditionally built here.

"Right now, the buildings there act like greenhouses: they have no external solar shading, no windows that can be darkened from the outside, no natural ventilation and no ceiling fans," co-lead of a Climate Impact study, Jesus Lizana, said. "Our buildings are exclusively prepared for the cold seasons.”

READ ALSO: Climate change challenges hydropower-dependent Austria

Recently, a panel of Austrian experts in climate and in construction debated the issues. As storms become more severe, with hailstones 7 centimetres in diameter and wind at 130km/h, "almost all materials and building materials are at the limit of their resilience".

Additionally, the experts foresee that "the time is approaching" when Austrians will have to spend more energy cooling than heating their homes. Simple glass façades, particularly those facing south, turn homes into greenhouses. 

According to the experts, the "issue of basements" is still underestimated. These underground constructions are much more complex to replace and adapt and will require much attention in the coming years. As heavy rainfall events increase, they will need to become waterproof.

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