Thousands are feared dead and many more people are missing in Libya after torrential rain and two burst dams led to devastating floods this week.

Exactly what happened is still being investigated — namely how the damage from a storm was exacerbated by local conditions on the ground, political instability, weakened infrastructure and poor planning.

When it comes to the cause, some scientists have already said climate change is very likely to have played a role in driving such extreme weather.

FactCheck takes a look.

What was Storm Daniel?

The flooding came after Storm Daniel, a so-called medicane due to its hurricane-like characteristics in the Mediterranean, swept south across the north African coast.

Last week, the same storm led to some parts of Greece seeing a year’s worth of rain in less than a day.

It hit Libya on Sunday, where full rainfall data hasn’t been collected yet. But the country’s National Meteorological Centre said one area saw a record 414 millimetres from Sunday to Monday.

Is climate change to blame for the Libya flooding?

Dr Friederike Otto from Imperial College London leads the World Weather Attribution initiative, an international group of scientists which rapidly assess the role climate change plays in extreme weather.

She told FactCheck it “is not super straightforward” to do an attribution study in this case as events were “quite localised in time and space” and the data to compare them with is limited.

This point was echoed by Dr Liz Stephens from University of Reading who told the Science Media Centre: “It is more difficult to understand the potential for catastrophic extreme events in an arid climate, where even moderate rainfall events are few and far between.”

Dr Otto told us her team expects to publish a paper on Libya next week.

She told FactCheck: “What can be said at this point in time is that [Daniel] was a medicane associated with very heavy rainfall in a very short timeframe, so over a few hours, and that is the kind of event where in other parts of Europe we have seen an increase that is attributed to climate change.”

As with many other parts of the world, the Mediterranean sea has had surface temperatures a few degrees above normal in recent months.

A collection of university academics meeting as the UK National Climate Impacts group told the Science Media Centre that this increased heat is “likely to have caused rainfall to be more intense” because it leads to more moisture evaporating into the air.

It said: “We expect climate change to increase ocean temperatures, but there is also a complex interplay between the atmospheric flow [and] the jet stream, which is projected to move more northward.  As such, we expect climate change to reduce the numbers of cyclones in the Med, but increase their intensity.”

Broadly, scientists need detailed data for comparison to draw reliable conclusions about how likely an event would have been without climate change, which is a challenge in Libya. “But I think from everything we know it will be very surprising if climate change did not play a role,” Dr Otto said.