Europe was hit by a severe winter heat wave in late December and early January, resulting in record temperatures.
Europe is emerging from its second warmest winter on record as climate change intensifies.
The average temperature in Europe from December to February was 1.4 degrees Celsius (2.8 degrees Fahrenheit) above the 1991-2020 average for the boreal winter season, according to data published by the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S). .
That ranks as Europe’s second warmest winter on record, surpassed only by the winter of 2019-2020.
Europe experienced a severe winter heat wave in late December and early January, as record high temperatures hit countries from France to Hungary, forcing ski resorts to close due to a lack of snow.
The European Commission said on Jan. 2 that hundreds of temperature records were broken across the continent, including the Swiss town of Altdorf reaching 19.2 °C (66.5 °F), a record since 1864.
C3S said temperatures were particularly high in Eastern Europe and northern Scandinavian countries. While overall temperatures in Europe were above average, some regions were below average, including parts of Russia and Greenland.
‘Path to Extinction’
Scientists say winters in Europe are getting warmer due to rising global temperatures due to human-induced climate change.
The unusually mild winter provided some short-term relief to governments struggling with high gas prices after Russia cut fuel supplies to Europe last year, with higher temperatures curbing demand for gas for heating in many countries.
But the high temperatures pose risks to wildlife and agriculture. Winter temperature spikes can cause plants to grow or bring animals out of hibernation prematurely, leaving them vulnerable to being killed by subsequent cold snaps.
Tilly Collins, deputy director of Imperial College London’s Center for Environmental Policy, said the changing climate meant plants and animals struggled to move to new locations to maintain their ideal temperatures.
“For species with small populations or restricted ranges, this could easily put them on the path to extinction,” Collins said.
Copernicus pointed to other climate-related extremes, including Antarctic sea ice, which last month fell to the lowest level ever recorded in February in the 45-year record of satellite data.
“These low sea ice conditions may have important implications for the stability of the Antarctic ice shelves and ultimately global sea level rise,” said C3S Deputy Director Samantha Burgess.