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Paris Floods

June 4, 2016

By Paul Homewood


The slowly sinking ‘Le Zouave’ statue, often used as a marker for the level of the Seine.

Fortunately, river levels on the Seine now appear to be receding. The Telegraph report that they peaked at 6.10 meters early this morning, the highest for three decades.

The “Le Zouave” statue next to the Pont de l’Alma is a good comparator for earlier floods, and this one was certainly well down on the infamous flood of 1910:

Pont de l’Alma

You can just make out the head of the statue next to the central arch.

The BBC provide this useful picture:

Graphic showing historic water levels against statue of Zouave

As mentioned above, the current event did not quite reach the expected level of 6.30.

According to Wikipedia:

The bridge serves as a measuring instrument for water levels in times of flooding on the Seine: access to the footpaths by the river embankments usually is closed when the Seine’s level reaches the feet of the Zouave; when the water hits his thighs, the river is unnavigable. During the great flood of the Seine in 1910, the level reached his shoulders. The French Civil Service uses the Pont de la Tournelle, not the Pont de l’Alma, to gauge flood levels.’Alma

The Guardian published this account of the 1910 floods on the centenary:

The summer had been wet, the winter even wetter, and bedraggled Parisians entered 1910 beneath an ominously heavy sky of gunmetal grey. At least, they thought, scurrying around the burgeoning Métro network of the self-anointed capital of modernity, it couldn’t get any worse. They were wrong. It got worse than they could have ever imagined.

The latter half of January brought torrential downpours and, already swollen, the river Seine burst its banks. Streets were inundated. Homes were under water. Paris had seen in the century showcasing man’s loftiest achievements and technological advances at the Universal Exhibition, but just 10 years later the city was brought to her knees by an old foe, Mother Nature.

Tomorrow, a century later, an exhibition at the Historical Library of Paris (BHVP) is taking people back in time to the month when the City of Light was plunged into darkness.

More than 200 documents, including photographs, postcards, maps and newspapers, are on show as part of an unprecedented attempt to chart the progress of the Great Flood.

The stark images show some of the city’s best-known areas submerged and its bewildered inhabitants making their way down the boulevards in rowing boats. An interactive database allows visitors to make a virtual tour of some 300 streets that were flooded.

One piece of early film footage shows parts of the Champs Elysées with just the treetops visible.

One witness at the time described the scene: “Crowds had gathered on the embankments, admiring the headlong rush of the silent yellow river that carried with it logs and barrels, broken furniture, the carcasses of animals, and perhaps sometimes a corpse, all racing madly to the sea; they had watched cranes, great piles of stones, and the roofs of sheds emerge momentarily from the flooded wharves and then vanish in the swirl of the rising water.”

An episode as dramatic as it was brief, the flood receded in the collective memory of Parisians as the horrors of the first world war unfolded.

But historians believe it deserves to be remembered. With 20,000 buildings wrecked within days and 200,000 people made homeless, the deluge brought devastation to the city on a scale not seen for centuries.

According to measurements taken at the Quai de la Tournelle, the Seine reached 8.5 metres, the highest seen since 1658. Of Paris’s 20 arrondissements, 12 were flooded. The total cost of the damage was estimated at 400m francs d’or – a sum the BHVP reckons is roughly equivalent in today’s money to over €1bn (£900m).

British Pathe also have some fascinating of the 1955 floods:



Although the 1910 flood is by far the worst in recent times, apparently the 1658 one was even worse, according to this report by the OECD:



They state:

1924 and 1955 also saw major flood events in the Paris region and in the entire Seine basin. Nevertheless, the lack of a significant flood for more than 60 years tends to lessen the memory of risk. Seine floods are characterised by their slow progression and, following on a period of submersion which may be very long. For instance, the waters took almost two months to subside in 1910. Even if the effect of climate change on the frequency and extent of the Seine floods is still uncertain, greater floods than the one of 1910 are still possible, such as the one that occurred in 1658.

  1. June 4, 2016 6:50 pm

    Was it man made global warming in 1910?

  2. Broadlands permalink
    June 4, 2016 8:07 pm

    It may just be a coincidence but using the 1870-2015 HadlSST1.1 ENSO index, 1910 was a La-Nina year, minus 0.93°C, as was 1955, minus 1.19°C. 1982 was an El-Nino year, plus 0.92°C… and 2016?

  3. It doesn't add up... permalink
    June 4, 2016 10:33 pm

    Of course, there has been speculation in the French press that this is all due to “rechauffement climatique”

  4. ghostwhowalksnz permalink
    June 4, 2016 11:52 pm

    Two things to remember, the bridge with the Zoauve statue has been rebuilt since the 1970s. And dams upstream of Paris are used to regulate river control and reduce flooding, but as is often the case for these things were 95% full when the rains began so could do little to store the rainfall.

    • June 5, 2016 8:21 am

      Yes Paul is wrong, he shouldn’t be comparing historic river levels, but rather rainfall
      because the city should have already changed the river flow system so these infrastructure damaging floods don’t happen in the city.
      – Whatever steps they took it was not enough. They should have had dam floodplains upriver already so that the flow never reached the city.
      And dams should have been lowered before the rain.

      • June 5, 2016 11:37 am

        The bottom line is that river levels are well below 1910, and also 1924 and 1955.

        Rainfall comparisons are meaningless, as the 1910 and 1955 floods were in January, and cannot be compared with May.

      • June 5, 2016 11:57 am

        Rather the bottom line is that some people are dead and half billion of damage done … when better planning would have prevented them.

        River level is a product of rain/drainage and other human actions so can’t easily compare 100 years ago with today.

        I wonder what happened to the Paris underground tunnel city ? it and new tunnels should be used to tunnel water away ..perhaps even building a clever metro tunnel to shift away such heavy water events.

      • June 5, 2016 3:34 pm

        The really scary thing is what would happen with a repeat of 1910.

        That’s why the OECD are so concerned in that report.

        Note they say little has been done since the 1990s to improve matters

  5. Paul2 permalink
    June 5, 2016 7:57 am

    Two stories in one. Revolving door and non-revolving wind turbines:

  6. June 5, 2016 9:14 am

    Reblogged this on WeatherAction News.

  7. dennisambler permalink
    June 5, 2016 10:32 am

    And in 1540, you could walk on the bed of the Seine…..

    Dutch records show that the year 1540 was one with an even hotter summer than the heat wave year of 2003.

    “This Europe-wide heat wave lasted for seven months, harvests were destroyed and thousands of cattle died, leading to wide spread famine and death. The Rhine dried up and it was reported that people could walk upon the Seine riverbed in Paris without getting their feet wet.”

  8. manicbeancounter permalink
    June 5, 2016 3:56 pm

    I have had a look at the historical flood figures and graphed the 6m+ floods since 1870.

    The frequency of major floods has decreased in the past 50 years. This I guess is partly due to flood prevention measures (dredging the river bed & reservoirs upstream) and partly due to less extreme rainfall. What seems pretty clear is that climate change is not resulting in more major flooding events.

    • June 5, 2016 6:11 pm

      Yes, the OECD came to the same conclusion

    • ghostwhowalksnz permalink
      June 5, 2016 11:35 pm

      Flood prevention measures include upstream dams, which seem to now be kept full near the start of summer to maintain the river flow for navigation purposes in dry weather. This is what has happened in this situation and previously for Brisbane in 2011. They need to establish what the dams primary purpose is, flood prevention, and stick to that. Two big cities having the flood prevention dams 95% full before a major rain event shows their planning is comical, as the spillways have to be opened during the flood peak to prevent over topping, increasing the flood peak.

  9. June 5, 2016 5:18 pm

    Cries of ‘climate change’ can never be the correct response to one-off weather events.

    By definition ‘climate’ has to be pattern of weather over a period of many years, so unless there are multiple weather events of the same type in the same region, there’s no basis for any kind of theorising about it.

  10. June 6, 2016 12:09 pm

    Reblogged this on TheFlippinTruth.

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