The year has only just started but already Europe has broken an alarming number of weather records as extreme heat spread across the continent.
On New Year’s Day, at least eight European countries recorded their warmest January day ever: Liechtenstein, the Czech Republic, Poland, the Netherlands, Belarus, Lithuania, Denmark and Latvia, according to the climatologist Maximiliano Herrera, who tracks extreme temperatures across the globe.
It’s “the most extreme heat wave in European history,” Herrera told CNN, based on how far above normal temperatures rose.
Cities that would often be covered in snow instead saw temperatures spike to levels usually seen in summer. “The real ‘monster’ part of this warm spell was December 31 to January 1,” Herrera told CNN.
On January 1, Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein, recorded a peak of 20 degrees Celsius (68 Fahrenheit), the Czech town of Javornik reached 19.6 degrees Celsius (67.3 Fahrenheit), and Jodłownik, a village in Poland, recorded a peak of 19 degrees Celsius (66.2 Fahrenheit).
Ukraine also recorded its highest temperature in January outside of Crimea.
When you consider how far above normal temperatures climbed, the current weather event is even more extreme than the heat waves that scorched much of Europe last summer, said Herrera. And not only is the heat unusually intense, it also spans a large area, from Europe’s borders with Asia to northern Spain.
“For the first time, a heat wave in Europe can rival the most intense ever recorded in North America,” said Herrera.
The driving force behind the exceptional heat was a warm air mass from the west coast of Africa, which moved across Europe, bringing unseasonably warm conditions, according to the UK Met Office.
While meteorologists say it’s too early to confidently attribute this extreme heat to climate change, scientists have warned that extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and more intense.
“The increases in average global temperatures caused by human activities such as burning fossil fuels make it more likely that temperature records will be broken,” said Rebecca Oakes, a climate scientist at the Met Office.
The record-breaking temperatures have alarmed meteorologists, but they have also had the effect of helping to ease the energy crisis that has gripped the continent.
Natural gas prices in Europe soared since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as President Vladimir Putin restricted supply to the continent, and many countries reduced their imports from Russia. But this unprecedented wave of warm weather has meant a lower demand for gas, contributing to natural gas prices slumping to their lowest level since Russia launched its invasion in February last year, according to data from Refinitiv.
In Ukraine, the unseasonably warm weather has also helped.
“Due to warm weather, [energy] consumption in Ukraine is reduced,” the country’s state-owned electricity operator Ukrenergo announced Tuesday. Anton Gerashchenko, an advisor to the Ukrainian government, tweeted on New Year’s Day: “Putin wanted to freeze Ukrainian allies and defeat Ukraine. Instead, even the weather is on our side.”
But while the warm weather may provide some relief, meteorologists warn this spell offers a glimpse of a concerning future.
Europe has entered “uncharted territory,” said Herrera. “It is one thing to beat even a century old record by few decimals, it is another one to shatter about 5,000 records in two days, in some cases with margin of more than 5 degrees Celsius.”