- 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 in gas prices
LONDON/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Record high winter temperatures engulfed parts of Europe over the new year, leading to calls from campaigners for faster action against climate change while providing a short-term respite for governments grappling with soaring gas prices.
Hundreds of locations have broken temperature records in the past days, from Switzerland to Poland to Hungary, which recorded its warmest Christmas Eve 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 warmest since records began, temperatures jumped to nearly 25C in the southwest on New Year’s Day while normally packed European ski resorts were deserted due to a lack of snow.
Germany’s weather service, where temperatures over 20C have been recorded, said such a mild turn of the year had not been observed in the country since records began in 1881.
Czech television reported that some trees had begun flowering in private gardens while Switzerland’s Meteorology and Climatology Office issued a pollen warning for those allergic to early-blooming hazelnuts.
The temperature reached 25.1 degrees Celsius at Bilbao Airport in the Basque Country, Spain. People were soaking up the sun sitting outside the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao or walking 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.
“It’s beautiful weather for cycling but we know the planet is burning. So we enjoy it but we’re afraid at the same time,” said French tourist Joanna Hoste.
Scientists have not yet analyzed the specific ways in which climate change has affected recent high temperatures, but January’s bout of warm weather fits with the long-term trend of warming due to human-caused climate change.
“Winters are getting warmer in Europe as a result of the increase in global temperatures,” said Freya Vamborg, a climate scientist with the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service.
It follows another year of extreme weather events that scientists have concluded are directly linked to global warming, including deadly heat waves in Europe and India and floods in Pakistan.
“Record heat across Europe has become more likely in the new year due to human-caused climate change, just as climate change now makes 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 coax animals out of hibernation early, leaving them vulnerable to being killed by the subsequent cold.
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 lasted for two weeks and is not over yet. “This is actually a relatively long-lived event,” he said.
Meteo France, France’s national weather agency, attributed the anomalous temperatures to a mass of warm air moving into Europe from the subtropics.
And it struck during the busy ski season, leading to canceled flights and empty 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 Jahorina mountain above the Bosnian capital Sarajevo, which hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics, this was supposed to be one of the busiest weeks of the season. Instead, chair lifts hung lifeless over the grassy slopes. In one guesthouse, a married couple dined alone in the restaurant, the only guests.
A ski jumping event in Zakopane, southern Poland, that 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 that can no longer be prevented now,” Smid said.
Weather relieves gas stress
The unusually mild temperatures provided some short-term 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 sent them racing to secure more gas from elsewhere.
Demand for heating gas fell in many countries due to a mild wave, which helped lower prices.
The benchmark gas price for the month to front was trading at 70.25 euros per megawatt-hour on Wednesday morning, the lowest since February 2022 – before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The head of Italy’s energy authority expected the country’s regulated energy bills to fall this month, if moderate temperatures help keep gas prices low.
However, a note from Eurointelligence warned that this should not lead governments to become complacent about Europe’s energy crisis.
“While it will give governments more fiscal breathing room in the early part of this year, the solution to Europe’s energy problems will take concerted action over several years,” she said. “No one should think that this is over yet.”
(Reporting by Kate Abnett, Richard Love, Alan Scharlech, Christina Than, Louisa Iley, Susana Tweedall, Reham Elkusa, Jason Hovett, Emma Penedo, Kirsten Donovan, Federico Macchione; Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Mark Heinrichs
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