Classifying the 2021 ‘Ahrtal’ flood event using hermeneutic interpretation, natural language processing, and instrumental data analyses
Abstract: Extreme weather events and severe flash floods during July 2021 caused numerous deaths and massive ecological disasters across Europe. The regionally overstrained environmental and socio-cultural resilience triggered an intensive discussion about cause and effect, responsibilities and public denouncement, and the financial consequences of climate-induced extreme events. In this article we analyze the flood event by four methodological approaches: (1) hermeneutics, with an analog interpretation of printed newspapers and sources; (2) text mining and natural language processing of digital newspaper articles available online; (3) precipitation and discharge models based on instrumental data; and (4) how the findings can be linked to the historical extreme floods of 1804 and 1910, based on documentary source analysis. These four approaches are used to compare and evaluate their consistency by tracking the course, consequences, and aftermaths of the flood disaster. The study shows a high consistency between the analog, digital, and instrumental data analysis. A combination of multidisciplinary methods and their application to historical events enables the evaluation of modern events. It enables to answer the question of return periods and intensities, which are indispensable for today’s risk assessments and their social contextualization, a desideratum in historical and modern climatology.