A year of extremes: Europe lashed by climate crisis in 2021

AFP

3 min read
A firefighting helicopter operates in the village of Villa, northwestern Athens, Greece, on August 18, 2021.
ANGELOS TZORTZINIS / AFPA firefighting helicopter operates in the village of Villa, northwestern Athens, Greece, on August 18, 2021.

The hottest summer in Europe, heatwaves in the Mediterranean, and in western Europe flooding and droughts

Europe endured record extreme weather in 2021, from the hottest day and the warmest summer to deadly wildfires and flooding, the European Union's climate monitoring service reported Friday.

While Earth's surface was some 34 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than pre-industrial levels last year, Europe saw an average increase of more than 35 degrees, a threshold beyond which dangerous extreme weather events become more likely and intense, the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) said.

The warmest summer on record featured a heatwave along the Mediterranean rim lasting weeks, and the hottest day ever registered in Europe, a blistering 120 degrees in Italy's Sicily.

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In Greece, high temperatures fueled deadly wildfires described by the prime minister as the country's "greatest ecological disaster in decades.”

Forests and homes across more than 3,000 square miles were burned to the ground. 

Meanwhile, a slow-moving, low-pressure system over Germany broke the record in mid-July for the most rain dumped in a single day.

The downpour was nourished by another unprecedented weather extreme, surface water temperatures over part of the Baltic Sea more than 41 degrees above average. 

Flooding in Germany and Belgium caused by the heavy rain – made far more likely by climate change, according to peer-reviewed studies – killed scores and caused billions of dollars in damage.

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As the climate continues to warm, flooding on this scale will become more frequent, the EU climate monitor warned.

"This shows that the understanding of weather and climate extremes is becoming increasingly relevant for key sectors of society," C3S director Carlo Buontempo said.

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