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CLIMATE CRISIS

How 2022 compares to Europe’s hottest summers

In just over two decades, Europe has experienced its five hottest summers since 1500. As temperatures rise above 40C across Europe this week here's a look at the history of recent heatwaves that have hit the continent.

How 2022 compares to Europe's hottest summers
Tactical firefighters in yellow suits, and supporting firefighters, set fires to burn a plot of land as they attempt to prevent the wild fire from spreading due to wind change, as they fight a forest fire near Louchats in Gironde, southwestern France on July 17, 2022. - France was on high alert on July 18, 2022, as the peak of a punishing heatwave gripped the country, while wildfires raging in parts of southwest Europe showed no sign of abating. (Photo by THIBAUD MORITZ / AFP)

Europe’s increasingly frequent heatwaves are back under the spotlight over devastating wildfires and with sweltering temperatures forecast to hit record highs in Britain and France this week.

On Monday July 18th the European Commission warned that more than half of the EU territory was a risk of suffering a drought due to the lack of recent rainfall and the scorching temperatures.

2022: Double trouble

A heatwave engulfing western Europe, the second in a month, sparks huge wildfires and threatens to smash records in Britain and France.

Fires in France, Greece, Portugal and Spain force thousands of residents and tourists to flee and kill several people, including a Spanish shepherd and a firefighter.

Firefighters stand on a road as heavy smoke is seen in the background during forest fires near the city of Origne, south-western France, on July 17, 2022. (Photo by Philippe LOPEZ / AFP)

Britain braces for an all-time high of 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) or more. Brittany in France could also register similar temperatures in what would be a regional record.

The weather warnings come hot on the heels of a scorching spell in June, where parts of Europe, from Spain to Germany, sizzled at unseasonal highs of between 40C to 43C.

2021: Hottest ever

Last year is Europe’s hottest summer on record, according to the European climate change monitoring service Copernicus.

Between late July and early August 2021, Greece endures what Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis calls the country’s worst heatwave in over 30 years, with temperatures hitting 45C in some regions. In Spain, temperatures reach 47C in parts of the south, according to national weather agency AEMET.

A helicopter drops water as fires rage in Navalmoral de la Sierra near Avila at center of Spain on August 16, 2021. (Photo by CESAR MANSO / AFP)

The heat and drought spark large wildfires along the Mediterranean, from Turkey and Greece to Italy and Spain.

2019: Northern Europe swelters

The summer of 2019 brings two heatwaves, which leave around 2,500 people dead, according to the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters of Belgium’s Louvain University.

In France, temperatures hit a record 46C on June 28 in the southern town of Verargues. Thousands of schools are closed.

A picture taken on July 25, 2019 shows a board displayed in an office building and reading 41 Celsius in Stuttgart, as a new record high temperature was recorded in Germany, amid a Europe wide heatwave, breaking the previous hottest figure reached the previous day. (Photo by Marijan Murat / dpa / AFP) / Germany OUT

On July 24 and 25, northern Europe fries in record heat. Temperatures of 42.6C are recorded at Lingen in northwestern Germany, 41.8C in Begijnendijk in northern Belgium and 38.7C in the eastern English city of Cambridge.

2018: Drought drains the Danube

The second half of July and beginning of August 2018 sees very high temperatures across much of Europe and rivers running dry due to drought.

The Danube falls to its lowest level in 100 years in some areas, notably exposing World War II tanks in Serbia that were submerged since the conflict.

Portugal and Spain suffer hugely destructive forest fires.

2017: Months of mugginess

Much of Europe, but especially the south, sweats from late June to well into August.

Spain set a record of 47.3C on July 13 in the southern town of Montoro.

Persistent drought sparks forest fires in Portugal.

2015: Back-to-back heatwaves

It’s heatwave after heatwave throughout the summer of 2015 which leaves an estimated 1,700 people dead in France.

In Britain, roads melt and trains are delayed in the hottest July on record, with temperatures reaching 36.7C at Heathrow airport.

2007: Greek forests ablaze

Central and southern Europe are parched by drought throughout June and July, provoking a spate of forest fires in Italy, North Macedonia and Serbia.

Locals use branches to estinguish a fire in Kato Kotyli village in central Peloponnese 30 August 2007. The fires that wrought a trail of destruction across Greece for a week were mostly under control as people counted the cost of a disaster that has claimed 63 lives. (Photo by Yiannis Dimitras / AFP)

In Hungary, 500 people die as a result of the heat.

2003: 70,000 dead

Britain, France, Italy, Spain and Portugal all experience exceptional heat in the first half of August, with Portugal suffering a record 47.3C at Amareleja in the south.

An EU study of 16 nations puts the number of excess deaths across the bloc during the heatwave as high as 70,000, with France and Italy each seeing between 15,000 and 20,000 fatalities, according to various reports since.

The 2003 heatwave in France caused the deaths of many elderly people and led to a change in the government’s approach to dealing with heatwaves. PHOTO JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK (Photo by Jean-Philippe KSIAZEK / AFP)

In France, most of the victims are elderly people in an episode that traumatises the country and leads to the implementation of new systems of protection during heatwaves.

Member comments

  1. Climate change is impacting us all but while it’s bad in Europe now both Africa and Asia get it worse.

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CLIMATE CRISIS

‘By a substantial margin’: How summer 2022 was Europe’s hottest on record

The summer of 2022 was the hottest in Europe's recorded history, with the continent suffering blistering heatwaves and the worst drought in centuries, the European Commission's satellite monitor said on Thursday.

'By a substantial margin': How summer 2022 was Europe's hottest on record

The five hottest years on record have all come since 2016 as climate change drives ever longer and stronger hot spells and drier soil conditions.

And that created tinderbox forests, increasing the risk of devastating and sometimes deadly wildfires.

The Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) said temperatures in Europe had been the “highest on record for both the month of August and the summer (June-August) as a whole”.

Data showed August was the hottest on the continent since records began in 1979 by a “substantial margin”, beating the previous record set in August 2021 by 0.4 degrees Celsius (0.72 Fahrenheit). Temperatures from June through to August 2022 were 1.34C hotter than the historical 1991-2020 average, while August itself was 1.72C higher than average.

READ ALSO: ‘A code red’: Will Europeans change their habits after climate crisis reality check?

An aerial view taken on August 4, 2022 in Les Brenets shows the dry bed of Brenets Lake (Lac des Brenets), part of the Doubs River, a natural border between eastern France and western Switzerland, as much of Europe bakes in a third heatwave since June. – The river has dried up due to a combination of factors, including geological faults that drain the river, decreased rainfall and heatwaves. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

That puts summer in Europe well within the temperature range at which the Paris Agreement on climate change seeks to limit global heating.

The 2015 accord commits nations to cap average global temperatures at “well below” 2C above pre-industrial levels and to strive for a safer guardrail of 1.5C.

Although satellite data only stretches back a few decades, a Copernicus spokeswoman told AFP the service was confident that 2022 was the hottest summer in Europe going as far back as 1880 — at the early stage of the industrial age.

Europe has been battered by a string of heatwaves this year, with temperature records tumbling in many countries and the mercury topping 40C for the first time in Britain.

The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) said last month that 2022 was already a record year for wildfires, with nearly 660,000 hectares torched in Europe since January.

‘Summer of extremes’

CAMS said fires in France had seen the highest levels of carbon pollution from wildfires since records began in 2003.

The EU said last month that the current drought parching the continent was the worst in at least 500 years.

The European Commission’s Global Drought Observatory latest bulletin said 47 percent of the continent is currently covered by drought warnings — meaning the soil is drying out.

An additional 17 percent is under drought alert, meaning that vegetation is showing signs of stress, fuelling concerns about the continent’s autumn harvest.

“An intense series of heatwaves across Europe, paired with unusually dry conditions, have led to a summer of extremes with records in terms of temperature, drought and fire activity in many parts of Europe, affecting society and nature in various ways,” said senior C3S scientist Freja Vamborg.

“Data shows that we’ve not only had record August temperatures for Europe but also for summer, with the previous summer record only being one year old.”

On a global level, August 2022 was the joint warmest August on record. The average temperature was 0.3C higher than the 1991-2020 average for the month, the monitor said.

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