Europe is coming out of a remarkable midwinter heat wave that shattered thousands of temperature records across the continent.
The term “heat wave” is relative in the winter, of course, but temperature anomalies coming in 15-20+ degrees above normal are extreme no matter the season.
Thousands of daily and all-time monthly heat records have fallen in countries across Europe, with nearly a thousand of those records falling in Germany alone.
Poland’s Institute of Meteorology and Water Management (IMGW) tweeted on Sunday that the heat blanketing the country is “an unprecedented situation.”
A significant ridge of high pressure that built over Europe is the cause of the widespread warmth that’s more common of early September than early January. Ridges foster sinking air that warms up as it descends toward the surface, aiding temperatures in their rise toward record territory.
Climate change’s dark shadow looms large over yet another stretch of unprecedented warmth. The impacts of climate change are accelerating around the world, and the year-after-year shattering of high temperature records is a hallmark of this global crisis.
The numbers are astounding. Warsaw, Poland, recorded a high temperature Sunday of 18.9°C, which shattered January’s old all-time monthly temperature record there by a 5.1-degree margin. Warsaw’s seasonal high for the first day of the year hovers just above the freezing mark.
New Year’s Day saw several countries measure their warmest temperatures ever recorded during the month of January. Poland’s national high temperature hit 19.0°C. The Netherlands climbed up to a toasty 16.9°C. Belarus shattered its old record with a 16.4°C reading.
On its face, those are relatively comfortable and even enjoyable temperatures—a respite from winter’s chill. But it’s important not to lose sight of just how extreme these temperature anomalies really are.
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This wave of warmth broke longstanding high-temperature records in the middle of winter. Daytime highs and nighttime lows coming in this far above normal for so many places in early January is unheard of in the region’s modern records.
In a roundabout way, it’s fortunate that this happened in January instead of July. For some perspective, heat waves with similar temperature anomalies during the middle of summer have killed thousands of people across Europe.
Last year, a brutal midsummer heat wave roasted Europe and brought the United Kingdom its first-ever 40°C temperature on record. That historic watermark registered about 17°C above seasonal for the middle of July.
Here in Canada, one of the only comparable events with such extreme temperature anomalies is the historic heat wave of June 2021 that broke Canada’s all-time high temperature record three days in a row. During that brutal heat dome event, Abbotsford broke its monthly June temperature record by 7.2°C, while Kamloops shattered its old June record by 8.2°C.