- The ski slopes are deserted due to the lack of snow
- Activists call for faster action on climate change
- Pollen warning as plants bloom early
- Governments are getting a short-term respite on petrol prices
LONDON/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Record winter temperatures have gripped parts of Europe in the New Year, prompting campaigners to call for faster action on climate change while offering governments a short-term respite grappling with soaring gas prices.
Hundreds of places have broken temperature records in recent days, from Switzerland to Poland to Hungary, which recorded its hottest Christmas Eve temperature in Budapest and saw temperatures soar to 18.9°C (66.02°F) on January 1.
In France, where the night of December 30-31 was the hottest since records began, temperatures soared to nearly 25C in the southwest on New Year’s Day while European ski resorts were usually crowded due to a lack of snow.
Where temperatures above 20 degrees Celsius have been recorded, the German Meteorological Service said such a slight change in the year had not been seen in the country since records began in 1881.
Czech television reported that some trees had started flowering in private gardens while the Swiss Office of Meteorology and Climatology issued a pollen warning for people allergic to early flowering hazelnuts.
The temperature reached 25.1 degrees Celsius at Bilbao Airport in the Basque Country, Spain. People soaked up the sun sitting outside the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao or strolling along the Nervion River.
“It always rains here, it’s very cold, and this January (but now) feels like summer,” said Eusebio Folgueira, 81, a resident of Bilbao.
“The weather is nice for cycling but we know the planet is burning. We enjoy it but we are afraid at the same time,” said French tourist Joanna Hoste.
Scientists have yet to analyze the specific ways climate change has affected recent high temperatures, but the warm weather in January fits with the long-term trend of warming due to human-caused climate change.
“Winters are getting warmer in Europe due to rising global temperatures,” said Freya Vamborg, a climate scientist with the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service.
It comes after another year of extreme weather events that scientists say are directly linked to global warming, including deadly heat waves in Europe and India and floods in Pakistan.
“The possibility of record temperatures across Europe is made more likely in the new year by human-caused climate change, just as climate change is now making every heatwave more likely and hotter,” said Dr Frederick Otto, a climatologist at Imperial College London. London.
Temperature spikes can also cause plants to start growing earlier in the year or bring animals out of hibernation early, leaving them vulnerable to a cold death.
Robert Vautard, director of the Pierre Simon Laplace Institute in France, said that while temperatures peaked from December 30 to January 2, the mild wave has been going on for two weeks and is not over yet. “It’s actually a relatively long event,” he said.
Météo France attributed the abnormal temperatures to a warm air mass moving into Europe from the subtropics.
And it struck during a busy ski season, leading to canceled flights and evacuations of the slopes. Resorts in the northern regions of Asturias, Leon and Cantabria have been closed since the Christmas holidays due to a lack of snow.
On Mount Jahorina above the Bosnian capital Sarajevo, which hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics, this week was set to be one of the busiest of the season. Instead, the lifeless elevators hung on the grassy slopes. In a guesthouse, the couple dine alone in the restaurant, the only guests.
The ski jumping event in Zakopane, southern Poland, which was scheduled to take place on the weekend of January 7-8, has been cancelled.
Carsten Smid, a climate expert with Greenpeace Germany, said that while some of the impacts of climate change are already inevitable, urgent action must be taken to prevent further extreme global warming.
“What’s happening now is exactly what climate scientists warned us about 10 or 20 years ago, and it’s unavoidable now,” Smid said.
Weather relieves gas stress
The unusually mild temperatures brought a short-lived relief to European governments, which have struggled to secure scarce gas supplies and rein in soaring prices after Russia cut fuel shipments to Europe.
European governments have said this energy crisis should speed up their shift from fossil fuels to clean energy — but in the short term, reduced Russian fuel supplies have led them to scramble to get more gas from elsewhere.
Demand for heating gas has decreased in many countries due to the moderate rise, which has contributed to lower prices.
The benchmark gas price for the month ahead was trading at 70.25 euros per megawatt-hour on Wednesday morning, the lowest level since February 2022 – before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The head of Italy’s energy authority expects the country’s regulated energy bills to come down this month, if moderate temperatures help keep gas prices low.
However, a note from Eurointelligence warned that this should not lead to governments becoming complacent about Europe’s energy crisis.
“While this will give governments more fiscal space early this year, the solution to Europe’s energy problems will come through concerted action over several years,” she said. “Nobody should think it’s over yet.”
(Reporting by Kate Abnett, Richard Love, Alan Charleck, Christina Than, Luisa Iley, Susana Tweedall, Reham Elcosa, Jason Hovett, Emma Penedo, Kirsten Donovan and Federico Machion; Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Mark Heinrichs
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.