Summers in Europe are much hotter than they used to be and winters aren't nearly as cold as they once were. And, the continent is warming much faster than climate models had once projected. That is the disturbing takeaway from a new study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
This summer saw two unbearable heat waves blanket Europe. The second set new records for high temperature when the mercury hit 114.8 degrees Fahrenheit in Southern France. As the climate crisis worsens, Europe can expect extreme heat more frequently and with increased intensity, the researchers said in a press release put out by the American Geophysical Union.
The European summer and winter are seeing hotter days. Extremely hot days have gotten 4.14 degrees Fahrenheit hotter on average, the study found. In the winter, extremely cold days warmed up by an average of 5.4 degrees F. The research analyzed nearly 70 years of temperatures from weather stations across Europe, dating back to 1950. The researchers found that more than 90 percent of stations showed a trend of global heating, as Environment 360 at Yale reported. When such a large number of weather stations report the same data, it's too high a percentage to be from natural variability.
"Even at this regional scale over Europe, we can see that these trends are much larger than what we would expect from natural variability," said Ruth Lorenz, a climate scientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland, and lead author of the study, in a statement. "That's really a signal from climate change."
While most Europeans are abundantly aware of the climate changing before their eyes, the disturbing finding is that the rate of heating is beyond what any climate models had predicted, as Gizmodoreported.
"In the Netherlands, Belgium, France, the model trends are about two times lower than the observed trends," said Geert Jan van Oldenborgh, a climate analyst at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute who was not connected to the new study, in a statement. "We're reaching new records faster than you'd expect."
To put it bluntly, the study found that there is no way these changes are natural.
Not only are the winter extremes not as cold as they once were, there are far fewer extremely cold days than there used to be. Some European weather stations saw half as many as extreme cold days, while others reported a three-fold decrease.
While it is clear that Europe will experience hotter summers and winters, what is not known is how well people will adapt to the accelerated changes. Extreme heat stresses the human body and can easily lead to exhaustion or heat stroke. As the heat intensifies, so does the danger.
"Lots of people don't have air conditioning for instance and it makes this really important," said Lorenz in a press release. "We expected results based on modeling studies but it's the first time we see it in what we've observed so far."
Maarten van Aalst, director of Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre and a professor at the University of Twente in the Netherlands, was not involved in the study but he told the Earther blog at Gizmodo that the trend toward heat waves carries massive humanitarian implications.
"Heatwaves are a silent killer; while for many people a heatwave just means a few hot days in the office, or even a nice day at the beach, heat is literally life-threatening to vulnerable groups like the elderly and chronically ill," he said. "Contrary to, for instance, storms and floods, these casualties usually do not even make the news. We only see them later in the statistics... no death certificate says 'heat wave' as the cause of death, even if the heat is actually a key factor in mortality."
Heat waves such as the upcoming European event are becoming more likely and severe as the climate warms in response to human activities.