Humanity is getting used to the new climate: how heat and floods are changing “usual” Europe

    16 Aug 2021

    Streams of dirty water overturning cars like toys and destroying houses translated live, and on the opposite side of the continent – the infernal heat and forest fires, which firefighters did not have time to extinguish physically. July 2021 was marked by natural disasters in many countries around Europe and the world.

    The first days of August are also not happy. In Greece, the peak temperature exceeded 46 ℃, turning a vacation for many tourists into a hot pan.

    However, these weather anomalies are unlikely to surprise those who have long been concerned about climate change. And the summer of 2021 is becoming another compelling argument that climate change is becoming a reality. The rate of warming in Europe is significantly higher than global.

    Let’s get acquainted with the European Truth analysis of the current climate situation.

    Sahara outside the desert

    Greek authorities on August 13 urged people to avoid unnecessary work and travel due to the heat: the temperature in Athens reached 40° C. At the peak of the heat, the Acropolis was closed for several hours not to expose tourists and museum staff to unnecessary risk. However, the “night coolness” could be called such only conditionally: according to the capital’s meteorological station, at 23:00, the air temperature here was almost 33 “.

    But Monday, August 2, could be the hottest day in decades – the country expected up to +47 ℃, almost as much as the absolute record: +48° C in 1977 (which is a record for all of Europe).

    The forecast was not too wrong: the meteorological station in the town of Makrakomi in central Greece recorded 46.3° C.

    At the same time, electricity consumption reached a ten-year high.

    This is also expected because people escape from the heat under the air conditioners. The Ministry of Environment and Energy said that on the night of August 3, consumption could exceed 9,500 MW, and called for limiting the use of electricity and setting the temperature on air conditioners to at least 26° C, because otherwise, the electricity grid may simply not cope with the load.

    The meteorological service says that July 2021 has become the hottest in the last ten years. Periods with more or less close to normal air temperatures were short – in fact, only 3-5 July and 18-25 July. The rest of the time, there was abnormal heat.

    However, is it really “abnormal”? Is this a new reality?

    Weather forecasters have calculated the ten most powerful “heat waves” covering Greece in the last 35 years. Two of them occurred in 2021.

    “We have constantly been recording maximum record temperatures in recent years, which means that climate change is already here,” said Stavros Solomos, a researcher at the Center for Atmospheric Physics and Climatology at the Athens Academy. He added that he expects even more frequent and intense heatwaves.

    Added to the infernal temperature is a related challenge forest fires. In drought conditions, they can be provoked by the slightest negligence. Thus, Greek firefighters reported that only on the last day of July, 46 forest fires broke out. Most were dealt with at once but not all. In the west of the Greek peninsula of the Peloponnese, residents of several villages had to evacuate. A number of settlements north of Athens were evacuated by fire last week.

    But let’s talk not about Greece only.

    This is just an illustration of a more global problem. Just in the south of the European continent, its consequences are most noticeable.

    Fire and dryness

    For almost a week now, the resort Mediterranean coast of Turkey, which also suffers from forty-degree heat, has been on fire. The first fires broke out in the Manavgat area, then in Marmaris, and then their number increased to more than a hundred.

    While, there were no casualties in Greece, in Turkey, the disaster claimed the lives of at least eight people, and that number could rise. The flames destroyed huge forests, sometimes entire villages, and approached the tourist areas.

    Footage of tourists evacuating from hotels in the southwest of the country, including in the resort of Bodrum, where people had to be taken by sea, flew around the network.

    More than 5,000 firefighters are involved in fighting the fire, and assistance is coming to Turkey from abroad. The European Union and non-block countries also provided firefighting aircraft.

    On August 2, the government announced that 125 of the 132 fires had been brought under control. And although – due to the fact that the fires occurred almost synchronously – the authorities do not rule out the version of arson, the weather factor has undoubtedly played a role.

    “We face the lowest humidity of all time – only 8%. Although under normal conditions, humidity below 30% in summer should be neither in Antalya nor in Mugla,” said Turkish Agriculture and Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli.

    In the West of the European continent, we can see the same problem. Over the weekend, the fire destroyed about 1,600 hectares of forest and agricultural land in Spanish Catalonia.

    Forests are burning in Mediterranean Italy. Fire in Sardinia became the largest in the last 27 years; forests also burned in Sicily and on the mainland.

    Showers and floods

    However, climate change is not just about warming. While the south of Europe is suffocating from the heat and begging for rain, a little further north – even within the same countries – disasters have been caused by water and ice.

    In northern Italy, anomalous hail damaged hundreds of cars on the highway, and in the commune of Como in the foothills of the Alps, the streets of towns turned into stormy rivers. Water destroyed roads, dragging cars and flooding houses.

    However, this was a trifle compared to the catastrophic floods in Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands in mid-July. These countries will overcome these effects for months, if not years.

    The floods in the western German states of Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia are called the worst disasters since World War II. After heavy rains, when two months of rain fell in two days, the rivers overflowed their banks, washing away everything in their path.

    A kind of symbol of the tragedy was the area of ​​Arvailer in the valley of the river Ar, where the element took the most lives. If in the previous great flood in Germany in 2002, about 20 people died, this time, about 180 people were confirmed dead, which is not the final figure.

    Regarding material losses, insurance companies estimate the insured losses alone at 4-5 billion euros.

    German Environment Minister Svenya Schulze wrote on Twitter after the flood news: “Climate change has arrived in Germany.”

    “These developments show the strength with which the effects of climate change can affect us all and how important it is to prepare even better for such extreme weather events in the future,” she added.

    After the tragedy, Germany was struck by incredible solidarity – hundreds of volunteers volunteered to help the affected areas. But many Germans were also unpleasantly surprised by how unprepared Germany’s developed and prosperous Germany was for the catastrophe, why no one foresaw the scale of the disaster, why the warning system for local residents did not work properly, and why no one decided to evacuate.

    The echo of climate change may be a change in the country’s political map.

    In neighboring Belgium, where floods have killed at least 38 people (and as soon as the country has commemorated them, high water has returned), there are also questions about the quality of the emergency notification and coordination system.

    If we take into account not only the most significant catastrophes, the list of places affected by the recent floods is snowballing: floods have affected most of Europe, from Britain to Georgia.

    Changes on the map

    But if the heat in Greece and the heavy rains in Belgium are perceived as something natural, and their scale may be surprising, the temperature in northern Europe can be impressive. At the beginning of July in Sweden, Norway, and Finland, the thermometer in some places reached + 34 ℃! However, it did not pass without curiosities in Oulu, Finland, the temperature record erroneously “created” hot air from the plane’s turbines taking off.

    It’s hot not only in Europe.

    Canada suffers from extreme heat. In early July in the province of British Columbia, where homes are not even equipped with air conditioning due to the cool climate, set a new temperature record of the country – 49.5° C. A few days later, the town of Lytton, where, in fact, this record was set, was destroyed by a large-scale forest fire.

    And in Greenland, in just one day, so much ice melted that water could cover the entire territory of Florida at a level of 5 cm. Only on Tuesday, July 27, the island lost 8.5 billion tons of ice. Scientists estimate that Greenland’s glaciers have been melting faster in recent years than ever before in the last 12,000 years.

    Our usual map of the Earth is changing, and this is no exaggeration.

    In 2018, clear evidence of climate change came from Sweden. That year, the country’s highest point, the southern peak of Mount Kebnekaise, lost its status due to the intense melting of the glacier that covers its summit. And in general, the glaciers are melting intensely, and if you as tourists want to see any of them in their current form – you should hurry.

    But how abnormal is this summer?

    Although the simultaneous number of weather disasters in Europe in 2021 is impressive, in fact, similar phenomena can be remembered in previous years.

    In August 2017, in several European countries, the thermometer exceeded + 40° C. July 2019 was named the hottest month in the history of global observations by European weather experts. Some countries like Belgium, the Netherlands, France updated their temperature records that summer; in the south of the latter, the temperature reached 44.3° C.

    At that time, due to the extreme heat in France, the NPP units were shut down at least four times. According to government estimates, the record heat in June-July 2019 caused the deaths of 1,435 people (although this is not a record – due to the heat of 2003, mortality was ten times higher).

    So what about temperature records now?

    Skeptics may say that the maximum is still far away. Indeed, this year’s temperatures in Europe have not yet broken previous records. For example, in Scandinavia, record +38° C was recorded in 1933 and 1947. However, if we take into account not only individual days (and even questions about the accuracy of measurements almost a century ago), but the average annual temperature and the duration of heatwaves, the last decade is a record hot.

    And Europe is warming up faster than the rest of the world?

    According to official data published by the European Environment Agency, in 2010-2019, the world average and weighted average for ten years near the soil surface was about 1° C higher than pre-industrial levels and the highest in the history of observations.

    But in Europe, growth during this period was much higher – by 1.7-1.9° C. And in the last few years, the growth has exceeded 2° C.

    This indicator, 2° C, is often mentioned as critical for the climate. Therefore, the consequences of European warming should not be surprising.

    And a study by British scientists shows that as a result of rising temperatures, catastrophic downpours and floods such as the one that devastated the German Ahrweiler may increase.

    Against the background of these gloomy prospects, the fact that climate change will force the European Union to prioritize the policy of the “Green Course seriously” (and after the recent cataclysms will not turn away from it!) adds at least some positive note.

    An additional bonus will be that these transformations should reduce the EU’s gas and oil products consumption. The European Commission officially sets this goal.

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