Europe starts New Year with historic winter heat, ski resorts close

Warsaw, the Polish capital, recorded temperatures of 18.9 degrees Celsius on January 1; more than 5 degrees Celsius above the previous record set 30 years ago.

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A wintry heatwave broke several national temperature records across Europe over the New Year weekend, prompting meteorologists to sound the alarm, while some ski resorts were forced to close in due to lack of snow.

January temperatures hit record highs in several European states, with national records set in at least seven countries.

The Polish capital, Warsaw, recorded temperatures of 18.9 degrees Celsius (66 degrees Fahrenheit) on January 1, more than 5 degrees Celsius above the previous record set 30 years ago.

The northern Spanish city of Bilbao recorded 24.9 degrees Celsius on New Year’s Day – temperatures you can usually expect in early July. Switzerland experienced 20 degrees Celsius on Sunday.

Warm weather and light snowfall forced some low-altitude ski resorts in the Northern Alps and French Pyrenees to close within weeks of opening.

Among the European countries that have recorded the hottest days in their history are the Netherlands, Denmark, Poland, the Czech Republic, Belarus, Latvia and Lithuania.

Regional records were also broken in France, Germany and Ukraine.

The most extreme event ever seen in European climatology.

Maximilian Herrera


Meteorologists and climatologists have expressed concern over the unusually warm winter weather, saying there is “too many records to count“and that many of the nighttime minimum temperatures were comparable to those of summer.

“We have just observed the hottest January day on record for many countries in Europe,” Scottish meteorologist Scott Duncan said via Twitter.

“Truly unprecedented in modern records,” Duncan said on Sunday, adding that the intensity and extent of the heat in the area was “difficult to understand.”

Many Bavarian ski resorts are currently suffering from a lack of snow.

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Maximiliano Herrera, a climatologist who tracks global weather extremes, described the temperature records as “the most extreme event ever seen in European climatology”. In remarks reported by The Washington Post on Monday, Herrera added, “Nothing comes close to that.”

Guillaume Séchet, audiovisual meteorologist in France, said Europe had “experienced one of the most incredible weather days in history” on the first day of 2023.

Winter heat follows record summer

The record winter heat in Europe follows the hottest summer on record in the region and contrasts sharply with the Extreme cold wave observed in the United States in recent weeks.

The Copernicus Climate Change Service, an intergovernmental agency that supports European climate policy, found that the average European temperature for the month of August and for the three-month period from June to August was the highest on record in 2022 with “substantial margins”.

A severe lack of rainfall and a string of summer heat waves have had a visible impact on European waterways, heightening fears over food and energy production at a time when prices are soaring due to the war between Russia and Ukraine.

In April last year, the world’s top climate scientists warned that the fight to keep global warming below the critical threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius had reached “now or never” territory.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has repeated calls for a massive reduction in the global use of fossil fuels to avert climate catastrophe.

“It’s now or never, if we want to limit global warming to 1.5°C,” IPCC Working Group III Co-Chair Jim Skea said in a statement accompanying the report. “Without immediate and deep emission reductions across all sectors, this will be impossible.”

The burning of fossil fuels – such as coal, oil and gas – is the main driver of the climate emergency.

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