World Environment News

Europe's Heat Wave Raises Global Warming Concerns

Date: 01-Aug-03
Country: SPAIN
Author: Adrian Croft

While experts caution that you cannot read too much into a single hot summer or natural disaster, Europe does seem to be experiencing extreme weather with growing frequency.

Less than a year ago, scores of people were dying as floods swamped Germany, Russia, Austria and the Czech Republic.

This year, the problem is extremely hot weather and drought, which, though it might be welcome to holidaymakers, is threatening lives and livelihoods in many parts of Europe.

"We've not seen such an extended period of dry weather and sunny days since records began (in about 1870)," said Michael Knobelsdorf, a meteorologist at the German weather service, referring to Europe as a whole.

"What's remarkable is that these extremes of weather are happening at such short intervals which suggests the climate is unbalanced. Last year in Germany, we were under water. Now we have one of the worst droughts in human memory," he said.

He urged caution about blaming everything on greenhouse gases that many experts believe cause global warming, although he said indications are that temperatures are up one to two degrees Celsius over the past century. Much of Europe, from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean and Britain to central Europe, has sweltered through unusually long heat waves recently.


Forest fires have hit France, Portugal, Russia and Croatia. Four tourists were killed in fires on the French Riviera this week that forced thousands to flee villas and campsites.

The hot weather is also taking its toll on agriculture, with forecasts for cereal production in Germany and the EU being cut.

In most parts of Italy, temperatures have hovered around the mid-30s Celsius every day for two months, with Milan hitting a June record of over 40 degrees Celsius. The heat wave has pushed Italy's electricity grid to its limit as people crank up their air conditioners, leading to rolling blackouts that have affected millions of Italians. Drought has caused billions of euros in crop damages.

The chief climatologist at Italy's National Geophysics Institute said the searing temperatures were further evidence of global warming, but did not provide a "smoking gun."

Antonio Navarra said the whole Mediterranean region was two to three degrees warmer than usual this summer and if the heat persisted, it would be consistent with the institute's climate simulations showing the potential effect of greenhouse gases. Paul Horsman, a climate campaigner with environmental group Greenpeace International, said that while scientists believed a heat wave could not be directly linked to climate change, "when you get a range of events there is certainly evidence that we are living in a globally-warmed world."

"We would argue very strongly that these events we are seeing are consistent with what the scientists are saying about climate change," Horsman said, adding that they reinforced the need for strong measures to curb climate change.

The Dutch KNMI meteorological institute said the maximum temperature in the Netherlands was 35.8 degrees in July and the average 18.8, against a normal summer average of 17.4 degrees.

"It looks like this summer is set to take the record from the summer of 1947," a KNMI meteorologist said.

The Norwegian coastal town of Bergen, known for rain rolling in from the north Atlantic, has had its warmest summer since 1925 with an average July temperature of 18 degrees Celsius. In Finland, there have been only a couple of slightly cooler days since the heat wave began on July 14.

Temperatures in Spain forecast to peak at 45 degrees Celsius in the south yesterday led people to complain of sleeplessness and authorities to warn against too much time in the sun.

(Additional reporting by Philip Blenkinsop in Berlin, Shasta Darlington in Rome, Marcel Michelson in Amsterdam, John Acher in Oslo, Nina Garlo in Helsinki)

© Thomson Reuters 2003 All rights reserved

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