Storm surge events on the North Sea

First documented storm surge in the North Sea; Approximately 2,500 deaths in what is now the Netherlands.

First Julian flood: 20,000 dead; First collapse of the Jade Bay, major damage in the Elbe area.

First Marcellus flood: 36,000 dead: major floods also in the Elbe area; first conveyed eyewitness report.

Allerkindslein flood: High loss of human life. The historic Elbe island of Gorieswerder is divided into several parts.

Lucia Flood: Beginning of the formation of the Dollart, 50,000 dead.

Clemens Flood: Expansion of the Jade Bay.

Second Marcellus Flood, Grote Manndranke: 100,000 dead: first collapse of the Dollart, expansion of Leybucht, Hariebucht, Jade Bay and Eider Estuary, sinking of large parts of North Frisia.

First Dionyslus flood: Largest extent of the Leybucht up to the city of Norden, sinking of the village of Westeel near Norden.

Second Dionysiusflut: Dikes near Lütetsburg and Bargebur
torn, the waves hit the walls of the Dominican monastery in Nord.

Cacilien flood: An entire village at the mouth of the Este was destroyed, and the Elbe island of Hahnöfersand was separated from the mainland.

Allerhelligen flood: Flooding on the entire North Sea coast, especially in Eiderstedt and Nordstrand.

Epiphany Flood: Flooding in Eiderstedt, no permanent land losses.

Cosmas and Damian flood: Breakthrough of the Ems
near Emden, largest expansion of the Dollart, last expansion of the Jade Bay to the northwest.

Antonius flood, ice flood: breakthrough between Jade and Weser.

10/31 and 11/1/1532
Third All Saints Flood: Several thousand dead in North Frisia, first peak value recorded in the church of Klibüll; Sinking of Osterbur and Ostbense in East Frisia.

Fourth All Saints Flood: Flooding of the marshes from Flanders to Eiderstedt: large dike breaches in the Altes Land as well as in the Vier- und Marschenlanden; Sinking of the villages of Oldendorf and Westbense near Esens: 9,000 to 10,000 dead between Ems and Weser. High tide mark at the Suurhusen church at NN +4.40 m.

Carnival flood: An ice flood, dike breaches and major damage in East Frisia and Oldenburg, in the Altes Land and Hamburg, many dikes breaches on Jade and Weser.

Second Grote Manndranke: Strand Island sinks; What remains are the islands of Nordstrand and Pellworm; at least 8,000 dead.

Petri flood: “Dane chains” broken on Juist and Langeoog, Dornumersiel was destroyed, there were dike breaches on the mainland.

Martin’s Flood: Severe damage to dikes from the Netherlands to the Elbe.

12/24 to 12/25/1717
Christmas flood: 11,150 dead from Holland to the Danish coast: the largest storm surge known to date with flooding and devastation of enormous proportions.

12/31/1720 to 01/01/1721
New Year’s flood: higher than Christmas flood; Destruction of the dikes that were poorly repaired after 1717; Sinking of the villages Bettewehr II and Itzendorf

2/3 to 2/4/1825
February flood: 800 dead; There were many dike breaches along the coast and severe loss of dunes on the islands. Highest storm surge on the Elbe until 1962.

1/1 to 1/2/1855
January flood: Heavy destruction on the East Frisian Islands, storm surge mark on Norderney at NN +4.26 m.

March flood: highest storm surge recorded to date on the East Frisian coast.

1/31 to 2/1/1953
Dutch flood: worst natural disaster of the 20th century in the North Sea area. In the Netherlands approx. 1,800 dead, England and Belgium more than 2,000 dead; Total damage more than €500 million: no major damage to the German coast, but an impetus to check the dikes.

2/16 to 2/17/1962
February storm surge, Second Julian flood: 340 dead, 19 of them in Lower Saxony, approx. 28,000 apartments or houses damaged and 1,300 completely destroyed; highest storm surge to date East of the Jade with 61 dike breaches in Lower Saxony; The Elbe area and its tributaries were particularly affected.

January flood: highest storm surge to date on almost all pegs on the German North Sea coast: numerous dike breaches in Kehdingen and the Haseldorfer Marsch.

November flood: Highest peak water level in North Frisia with NN +4.72 m at the Dagebüll gauge.

January flood: Highest peak water levels on the Ems with NN +4.75 m at the Weener gauge and on the Wese with NN +5.33 m at the Vegesack gauge.

Anatol: short-term increase with very high water levels in the entire North Sea region; The storm subsided before the astronomical flood occurred in Cuxhaven, otherwise the values ​​of 1976 had been exceeded in the Elbe area.

Fifth All Saints Flood: Very severe storm surge with water levels exceeding the 1994 levels in the Ems area, dike collapses on the East Frisian islands of Juist, Langeoog and Wangerooge…

This list was assembled by Christian von Wissel of Bremer Zentrum für Baukultur. It was part of the exhibition “Deichstadt #1” in spring 2024.

Breach of St. Anthony Dike in 1651

Jan Asselijn (1610–1652): “Breach of St. Anthonis-Dike near Amsterdam”, 1651.

“During the night of 4-5 March 1651 the Saint Anthony’s Dike was breached near Amsterdam. Jan Asselijn portrayed the fiercely flowing water with a strong sense of drama. The billowing cloak of the man at the left shows that the storm is not yet over, however the squalls are already moving on at the right. The vivid red contrasts sharply with the bright blue of the parting clouds.”

(from the website of Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, NL)

Designing cities below sea level: Paraty, Brazil

Paraty is a small town and tourist location on Brazil’s Costa Verde, between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Rising as high as 1,300 meters behind the town are tropical forests and mountains. The village was founded in 1597 and established formally as a town by Portuguese colonists in 1667. The region was populated by the Guaianás Indians. Paraty’s historic center has cobbled streets and buildings dating to its time as a port, during the Brazilian Gold Rush around 1700. Since it is located below-sea-level, the streets flood every full-moon at high tide. Instead of keeping the sea water out, the city planners built a sea wall with special openings to let the water flow in and clean the cobble stone streets.

The following excerpt is from an article by Jose Barbedo et al. Full text can be found here.

“The leading Brazilian urban planner Lucio Costa has described Paraty as the city where the ways of the sea and the paths of the earth meet and interlock. This short description synthesizes the unique landscape that surrounds one of the most valuable colonial settlements in South America.

When the first Portuguese settled in this site in the 16th century, the area was composed of wetlands, which were since progressively drained for the construction of the colonial town. The remnants of the floodplain which were not urbanized have been converted for agricultural use, serving as a buffer zone between the city and the mountains. The two river systems flowing into the urban area (Mateus Nunes and Perequê Açu) have steep gradients, bringing rapid discharges of large volumes of storm water onto the floodplain.

The original settlement was planned to cope with regular high tides and common flooding events; the streets were deliberately designed in a “V” shape, sloping down from the curbs towards the center, in order to keep the houses dry while the streets turned into canals. Today, this fragile balance between the city and its natural environment is threatened by unplanned urban expansion, which in turn may also be aggravated by more frequent extreme rainfall events as registered in recent times.”

Atlantis on a map from 1664

Map by German scientist Athanasius Kircher (1602 – 1680)

Burchardi Flood or Grote Mendrenke

German annalist and farmer Peter Sax (1597 – 1662) wrote about the North Sea flood of October 11th 1634: „Um sechs Uhr am abend fing Gott der Herr aus dem Osten mit Wind und Regen zu wettern, um sieben wendete er den Wind nach dem Südwesten und ließ ihn so stark wehen, daß fast kein Menschen gehen oder stehen konnte, um acht und neun waren alle Deiche schon zerschlagen […] Gott der Herr ließ donnern, regnen, hageln, blitzen und den Wind so kräftig wehen, daß die Grundfeste der Erde sich bewegten […] um zehn Uhr war alles geschehen.“

Translation: “…at six o’clock at night the Lord God began to fulminate with wind and rain from the east; at seven He turned the wind to the southwest and let it blow so strong that hardly any man could walk or stand; at eight and nine all dikes were already smitten… The Lord God [sent] thunder, rain, hail lightning and such a powerful wind that the Earth’s foundation was shaken… at ten o’clock everything was over.”

Vineta on a map from 1693

A map of the Swedish state survey of Pomerania, the first comprehensive cadastre of a German territory, shows how much the sunken city in the sea fascinated the contemporaries. Towards the end of the 17th century, Swedish land surveyors had mapped and described Western Pomerania, which had fallen to Sweden in the Peace of Westphalia. This resulted in more than 1700 colored maps. Only in one case did the cartographers add a decorative depiction to the map image. It is the map of Koserow and Damerow on the island of Usedom. A city view with baroque gabled houses, city wall, gate and castle has been added above the map image and painted over with a transparent blue. From the Latin description we can gather that this is the famous sunken city of Vineta. So the Swedes suspected Vineta before Damerow.
Source (german):

Germany; 17. Century; Christian; Illustration on Map; City: Vineta

Anton Heimreich: Ernewerte Nordfresische Chronick

A. C. 1300 am Tage Marcelli Pontificis (ist der 16. Jan.) hat sich die Westsee durch Sturmwinde erhoben, und das Wasser vier Ellen über die höchsten Deiche geführet, Städte und Dörfer umgekehret, und den Flecken Rungholt neben sieben Kirchspielkirchen in Edomsharde verwüstet, andere mehr anjetzo zu geschweigen, und seyn dazumal 7600 Menschen ertrunken, und 21 Wehlen im Nordstrande eingerissen. […]

Unter allen diesen ertrunkenen Oertern ist insonderheit benamet der Flecken Rungholt, von dessen Verwüstung und Untergang, wie auch künftigen Wohlstande der gemeine Mann beides in vorigen und auch noch in jetzigen Zeiten viel Wunderdinges erzählet. Inmaßen man berichtet, daß auf eine Zeit etliche muthwillige Gäste eine Sau, mit Urlaub, sollen trunken gemachet und zu Bette geleget haben, und darauf den Prediger lassen ersuchen, er möchte ihrem Kranken das Abendmahl reichen, und sich dabey verschworen, daß, wenn er bey seiner Ankunft ihren Willen nicht würde erfüllen, sie ihn in den Graben stoßen wollten. Wie aber der Prediger das H. Sacrament nicht so gräulich wollen mißbrauchen, und sie sich unter einander besprochen: ob man nicht sollte halten, was man geschworen? Und der Prediger daraus leichtlich gemerket, daß sie nichts Gutes mit ihm im Sinne hätten, hat er sich stillschweigens davon gemacht. Indem er aber wieder heim gehen wollen, und ihn zwo gottlose Buben, so im Kruge gesessen, gesehen, haben sie sich beredet, daß so er nicht zu ihnen herein gehen würde, sie ihm die Haut wollten voll schlagen. Seyn darauf zu ihm hinaus gegangen, haben ihn mit Gewalt ins Haus gezogen, und gefraget wo er gewesen? Und wie ers ihnen geklaget, wie man mit Gott und ihm habe geschimpfet, haben sie ihn gefraget, ob er das H. Sacrament bey sich hätte? und ihn gebeten, daß er ihnen dasselbe möchte zeigen. Darauf er ihnen die Büchse gegeben, darin das Sacrament gewesen, welche sie voll Biers gegossen, und gotteslästerlich gesprochen, daß so Gott darinnen sey, so müsse er auch mit ihnen saufen, und wie der Prediger auf sein freundliches Anhalten die Büchse wieder bekommen, sey er damit zur Kirche gegangen, und habe Gott angerufen, daß er diese gottlosen Leute wolle strafen. Darauf er in der folgenden Nacht sey gewarnet worden, daß er aus dem Lande, so Gott verderben wollte, sollte gehen, sey auch aufgestanden und davongegangen, und habe sich also bald ein ungestümer Wind und hohes Wasser erhoben, dadurch das ganze Land Rungholt (oder wie andere melden, ganze sieben Kirchspiele, worunter Rungholt das vornehmste gewesen) sey untergegangen, und niemand davon gekommen, als gemeldeter Prediger und zwo (oder, wie andere setzen, seine Magd und drei) Jungfrauen, so den Abend zuvor von Rungholt aus auf Bopschlut zur Kirchmeß seyn gegangen, von welchen Backe Boisens Geschlecht zu Bopschlut soll entsprossen seyn, dessen Nachkommen theils noch jetziger Zeit in diesem Lande seyn vorhanden und verhält sich ihre Genealogie folgendernmaßen: […].

Sonsten stehen die alten abergläubischen Leute im Wahn, daß dieses Rungholt noch einmal wieder werde aufstehen, und vor dem jüngsten Tage zu vorigem Stande kommen, melden auch, daß diese Stadt mit allen Häusern ganz in der Erde stehe, und dessen Thurm und Mühlen (desgleichen man auch von Kirchspiel Alver oder Kalfer an der Süderog und andern untergesunkenen Oertern und Städten berichtet) sich öftermals bey hellem Wetter hervor thue, und klar sehen lasse, und daß auch von den vorüberfahrenden der Glockenklang und dergleichen noch jetzunder gehöret werde, doch wird dieses von andern entweder für einen alten Weibertraum oder auch für eine zur Bestätigung des Aberglaubens erdichtete Fabel gehalten. Und ist derselben Meinung der Wahrheit ähnlicher, welche erachten, daß dieser Flecken neben den umliegenden Kirchspielen durch eine hohe Fluth, nach Art dieser niedrigen Länder, sey überschwemmet, habe äußerste Noth gelitten, sey aus dem Deichbande geworfen, und also endlich zu salzen See geworden.

Und erachte ich, daß dieselbe Kirche bey der Süderog am Hamburger Sande wird gelegen haben, maaßen man daselbst noch einen Ort zeiget, welcher Süntkalff wird geheißen, und von welchem ein Sprichwort ist: Wenn upstahn wert Suntkalff, so wert Strand sinken halff! wiewol dieses, leider! erfolget, und jenes hinterblieben.

[…] wie der Deichgraf in Risummohr nach verfertigtem Deiche den Spaten auf den Deich gesetzet, und vermessentlich gesaget: Trotz nun blanke Hans! [27]

This is one of the earliest published versions of the story of the sunken city Rungholt in Northern Germany. Published in 1668 in a Chronicle of North Friesland.

Extensive info (german):

Germany; 17. Century; Christian; Chronicle; City: Rungholt