Weather records have been falling at a worrying rate across Europe in recent days, meteorologists say.
The warmest January day on record was recorded in at least eight European countries, including Poland, Denmark, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Belarus, Lithuania and Latvia, according to data compiled by Maximiliano Herrera, a climatologist who tracks extreme temperatures.
In Korbielów, Poland, mercury reached 19 °C (66 °F) – a temperature the Silesian village is more used to in May and 18 °C above the annual average of 1 °C for January. In Javorník in the Czech Republic it was 19.6°C, compared to an average of 3°C for that time of year.
Temperatures in Vysokaje, Belarus would normally hover around freezing at this time of year. They reached 16.4C on Sunday, surpassing the country’s previous record high set in January by 4.5C.
Elsewhere on the continent, local records have been broken at thousands of individual measuring stations, with nearly 950 toppled in Germany alone from Dec. 31 to Jan. 2, Herrera said.
Northern Spain and southern France basked in beach weather, with 24.9C in Bilbao, the hottest January day on record, and records broken at stations in Cantabria, Asturias and the Basque Country. Only Norway, Great Britain, Ireland, Italy and the south-east Mediterranean reported no records.
“We can consider this the most extreme event in European history,” Herrera said. “Take the case of the extreme heatwave of July 2022 in the UK and spread that sigma (magnitude) out over a much larger area, encompassing about 15 countries.
“We can safely say that this is the first time that an extreme weather event in Europe (in terms of extreme heat) is comparable to the most extreme in North America.”
Alex Burkill, a senior meteorologist at the Met Office, agreed it was an extreme weather event. “It was extreme heat over a huge area, which to be honest is almost unprecedented,” he said.
Burkill said a warm mass of air developing off the west coast of Africa traveled northeast through Europe from Portugal and Spain, attracted by high pressure over the Mediterranean Sea.
“It was widespread, Denmark, the Czech Republic and pretty much all of Germany experienced temperatures that broke records in January,” Burkill said.
“It is also worth noting that we have had exceptionally warm weather in the south of England. New Year’s Eve, I think seven places in southern England had their warmest New Year’s Eve ever.”
Meteorologist Scott Duncan said temperatures across Europe are breathtaking. “We had a very warm New Year last year but that blows that out of the water,” he said. “We’ve seen long-standing records broken by large margins in several countries.”
The causes are difficult to pin down, Duncan said, with La Niña and anomalous sea surface heat playing roles. “None of the above things here are new, though, so what led to Extreme reaching record-breaking status? Our warming atmosphere and oceans will ultimately make it easier to break records.”
Prof Bill McGuire, who has written on the consequences of climate breakdown, said the high temperatures portend what is to come.
“The most worrying part is that at the rate of global warming, it just isn’t a surprise anymore,” he said. “It’s a glimpse of a future where winter will be reduced to a few months of bleak, wet, and mild weather, with little frost, ice, or snow.”