Remarkable low flow of River Elbe during #EuroDrought18

N.B.: This is only to shed a light on hydrological conditions at a specific location and a specific day. #EuroDrought18 isn’t over yet for larger regions that were affected up to now. More in-depth analyses need to follow. Additionally, flow in the River Elbe is strongly affected by dams, barrages, locks, etc., located in the Czech part of the catchment, foremost since the 1960’s, where a number of larger dams went into operation. Dams etc. affect the flow regime in both ways; they can sustain the flow by an additional release of water. On the other hand, flow is sometimes retained by technical operations for a certain time, e.g., in order to collect water for a more efficient energy production or to prepare releasing a “wave” to the downstream channel to support navigation, for instance. Therefore, a direct comparison of current conditions to historical extremes (i.e., prior the 1960’s) is not permitted.

Yesterday’s remarkable low flow was caused by a sunk due to the operation of Střekov barrage weir. The barrage was operated to retain water which was later released to improve power generation at Střekov and to support tourist-steamer navigation in and around Dresden on the upcoming weekend. Thus, the current low flow situation in the Elbe clearly is a consequence of #EuroDrought18. However, yesterday’s quite extreme low flow was also influenced by man-made operations.

First of all, here are some impressions of the situation on the evening of yesterday’s August, 23 (all pics taken by myself; feel free to share):

As already mentioned, a comparison with past data should be carried out with caution. Taking data starting from 1965 (data can be downloaded here) and comparing to current data (which can be found here) leads to the conclusion, that yesterday’s mean flow of 73.8 m³/s (mean water level: 43 cm) is the lowest daily mean flow since at least 50 years:

Daily mean flow of Elbe at Dresden from January 01, 1965 to August 23, 2018 (data can be found here and here; note the logarithmic scale of the ordinate axis).

Ripping up the data a bit and comparing it to empirically drawn flow percentiles gives the following image:

Flow climatology for Dresden / Elbe drawn from daily mean flow values from January 01, 1965 to December 31, 2017 and compared to current mean hourly flow values of the years 2017 and 2018 (solid lines). The R-Script used for data analysis and dataviz is courtesy of WSL and can be downloaded here.

The big question is, if the current drought will still last for a while, or not… Seasonal forecasts indicate near-normal conditions for the next months. If they are right, the upcoming rainfall would not fully compensate the current rainfall deficit until the end of the year, though.

ECMW seasonal forecast (Sept-Oct-Nov) of mean precipitation anomaly (source).

Up to now, the present drought seems to be a major event with more severe characteristics than the droughts of 2003 and 2015, at least for parts of Europe. However, this claim needs to be verified by further analyses, which will be carried out by the hydrology community in the future, for sure! In the meantime, feel free to follow the #EuroDrought18 hash tag on Twitter to stay up to date on the topic…

Last not least, here is some visual comparision of the 2015 with the 2018 situation:

Augustus Bridge over River Elbe in Dresden with indicated extreme water levels for selected flood and low flow events (as of August 23, 2018).