SUNDAY, APRIL 21, 2019
Balkan Floods
5/20/2014 10:30:00 AM
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First Posting 5/20/2014 10:30:00 AM  
Posting Date: 5/20/2014 10:30:00 AM

The Current Situation
Southeast Europe is experiencing record levels of flooding after three months’ worth of rain fell in just three days. Many landslides have also occurred, covering roads, homes, and villages. With bridges down and roads and railways blocked or submerged, many communities are cut off, keeping rescue boats and helicopters busy. Rescue teams and humanitarian aid have been sent to the region by 14 European Union states and Russia. There are concerns that landmines or unexploded shells from the civil war may be exposed, creating an additional hazard for residents and rescuers alike.

Meteorological Background
On Tuesday, May 13, a low pressure system, named Tamara in Serbia, developed over northern Italy. During the next three days Tamara intensified and shifted towards the northern Balkan region. Tamara moved very slowly and intensified with moist warm air masses from the Black Sea. On May 15-16 Tamara turned into a steady-state, self-contained low-pressure system that generated extreme high precipitation rates over Southeast Europe and the Eastern Alpine Region.

Meteorologists often describe this weather phenomenon as a Genoa Cyclogenesis with a Vb-track (pronounced "five-b-track"). Generally, low pressure systems with a Vb-track cause heavy floods in Central Europe.

  Deutscher Wetterdienst

Tamara (Yvette) over Southeast Europe (Source: Deutscher Wetterdienst)

Due to an intense high pressure system on the west-northwest flank of Tamara, a high pressure gradient occurred and caused very high wind gusts in southern Poland, the eastern Czech Republic, and in eastern Austria, with maximum wind speeds up to 150 km/h in exposed regions. 

Affected Region/Rivers
Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Croatia, Romania, Slovenia, Hungary, Austria, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Poland were among the countries impacted. Particularly heavy rain and snowfall was reported in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Croatia. In Bosnia and Herzegovina rainfall was the heaviest since records began in 1894. In the area around the Serbian capital, Belgrade, about 180 mm was measured within 48 hours.

Northern Serbia is mostly lowlands and is a highly agricultural region that has experienced severe floods in the past. Most Serbian rivers drain to the Danube River, and floods along the Danube, which usually originate to the north of Serbia, affect many Serbian cities. One of the regions of Serbia most severely affected by Tamara is the drainage area around the rivers Sava and Drina.

Almost a third of Bosnia is flooded, principally in the north east of the country, affecting about a quarter of the country's population. The worst flood was reported in the capital Sarajevo and Tuzla regions, in the center of the country, as well as the cities of Goražde and Bijeljina. Large parts of eastern Croatia are underwater, with several villages cut off.  Casualties and power outages have also been reported in Poland, Slovakia, and Romania.

Serbian Hydrological Stations Where Absolute Maxima Have Been Exceeded*


Hydrological Station

Current Status





Sremska Mitrovica





Velika Morava







Smederevska Palanka



Veliko Selo


 *Hydrometeorological Service of Serbia water level report for Monday 19.05.2014, 06:00 UTC

Exposure at Risk
In Southeast Europe, construction materials and the level of engineering required for flood resistance, vary significantly depending on the occupancy class and location. Residential buildings are typically not as well engineered as commercial ones, and contents on the lower stories and cellar are usually quite different from contents in a commercial establishment. 

Many single-family residences are one-story buildings, the majority of which are masonry. When low-rise buildings such as these are flooded a significant percentage of the building, and its contents, can sustain damage, increasing the damage ratio. The presence of a cellar also increases the risk for contents damage.

Unlike single-family or small multi-family houses, large apartment and condominium buildings frequently receive a degree of engineering attention similar to that given to commercial construction. The commercial building stock uses a wider variety of construction materials than residential buildings. Smaller office buildings, hotels, and other smaller commercial structures are usually masonry or reinforced concrete but larger buildings are almost exclusively made of reinforced concrete. Light metal and steel structures are typically used for warehouses and other low-rise storage buildings.

In Serbia alone the area at risk of flooding covers about 1.6 million hectares and includes over 500 larger settlements, and more than 500 large commercial buildings. Across the region, the agricultural sector, on which the economy is reliant, is expected to be significantly impacted.

Impact and Outlook
As of 19 May, reports[1],[2] indicate that more than 44 people have been killed in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia, although government officials expect this figure to increase. In Serbia, over 24,000 people have been evacuated so far from the affected areas and over 26,000 households are without electricity. Officials have not yet released estimates of the damage caused by the floods, but they are expected to be high. Both Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina have issued a State of Emergency and requested international assistance.

The catastrophe insurance market in the region is currently limited and insurance penetration is low. AIR has developed flood models for three countries in Southeast Europe (Serbia, Albania, and Macedonia) which are currently available in CLASIC/2™ and CATRADER®. The modeled 1% exceedance probability (100-year mean return period) ground-up loss for modeled insurable assets for the entire country of Serbia is of the order of 1.5 billion euros. Note that the loss associated with the 100-year rainfall/flow/flood is not necessarily equivalent to the 100-year mean return period loss. 

The rainfall eased on Sunday, and some flood waters have receded, but the flooding is far from over. Water levels, particularly downstream, are likely to continue rising for some days and in some regions flooding may get worse. In the area of Sabac city for example, west of Belgrade, the Sava river has been contained thanks to extensive sandbag barriers, but if its waters rise another 0.2 meters they will overflow. Belgrade itself lies at the confluence of the Sava and Danube, and the flood level there is expected to rise through Thursday.

Long-term forecasts suggest continued cycles of heavy rain throughout May. In areas where the flood risk is abating, it will be some time before flood waters have receded and much longer still before economic activity recovers. AIR will continue to analyze information from the event and will provide additional information as warranted.


Balkan Floods
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