This winter in Europe was hottest on record by far, say scientists

This winter has been by far the hottest recorded in Europe, scientists have announced, with the climate crisis likely to have supercharged the heat.

The EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) data dates back to 1855. It said the average temperature for December, January and February was 1.4C above the previous winter record, which was set in 2015-16. New regional climate records are usually passed by only a fraction of a degree. Europe’s winter was 3.4C hotter than the average from 1981-2010.

The unseasonal heat has led to the failure of the ice-wine harvest in Germany and snow having to be imported for sporting events in Sweden and Russia. In Helsinki, Finland, the average temperature for January and February was more than 6C higher than the 1981-2010 average. In the UK, serious flooding is likely to have been made worse by higher temperatures, as in 2015.

“Whilst this winter was a truly extreme event in its own right, it is likely that these sorts of events have been made more extreme by the global warming trend,” said Carlo Buontempo, director of C3S.

But he added: “Seeing such a warm winter is disconcerting, but does not represent a climate trend as such. Seasonal temperatures, especially outside the tropics vary significantly from year to year.”

Surface air temperature anomaly for February 2020 relative to the February average for the period 1981-2010. Data source: ERA5

Nonetheless, scientists expect global heating to increase the number of temperature extremes and this is continuing around the world. Australia, which has suffered catastrophic bushfires, has just recorded its second-hottest summer on record, only a little cooler than the record set the year before.

In Antarctica, the temperature rose above 20C for the first time on record in February, almost a full degree higher than the previous record set in 1982.

Across the globe as a whole, 2019 was the second hottest on record for the planet’s surface and both the past five years and the past decade were the hottest in 150 years. The previous hottest year was in 2016, but temperatures were boosted that year by a natural El Nino event. The heat in the world’s oceans reached a new record level in 2019, showing “irrefutable and accelerating” heating of the planet, according to scientists.

In the UK, the Met Office said in January that a series of high temperature records were broken in 2019 as a consequence of the climate crisis. This included the hottest temperature ever recorded in the country: 38.7C on 25 July in Cambridge.

2020 is a crucial year in the fight to halt the climate emergency and prevent the damaging impacts worsening. The UK is hosting a vital UN climate summit in November at which the world’s nations must dramatically increase their pledges to cut carbon emissions to avoid a disastrous 3-4C rise in global temperatures.


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