Europe: Heat Records Obliterated, Wheat and Corn Smacked

Europe: Heat Records Obliterated, Wheat and Corn Smacked

When the UK’s Met Office made a long-range forecast for British and European weather in 2020, no one foresaw that its extreme 2050 heat forecast would arrive in 2022. Tuesday, the UK recorded its highest temperature ever, 40.2 degrees Centigrade (104.4 F).

Across Europe, temperature records have been broken all week. Over 2,000 people have died in Portugal and Spain alone because of heat and wildfires rage from Turkey to Spain and north to the Arctic Circle. Agriculture is suffering, with corn yields predicted to go down by 30% in Italy and 16% in Spain.

The complete social and economic damage has yet to be calculated for this summer’s wild weather in the Northern Hemisphere but the European Environment Agency estimates that the continent has lost up to $552 billion in the last forty years from extreme weather events.

At a climate summit in Berlin this week, António Guterres, the United Nations Secretary-General, declared, “We have a choice. Collective action or collective suicide.”

WIth European temperatures reaching up to 115 Fahrenheit and London thirty Fahrenheit degrees higher than average, is it any wonder the UN Secretary-General despairs?

Temperature changes in Europe show the increased heat
Temperature change in Europe since 1900. Source: UNFCC.

First Cold, Now Heat: Euro Agriculture Has Taken A Big Weather Hit This Year

This is Europe’s second heatwave this year and forecasts call for more. Heat has not been the only concern for European agriculture this year, however. A record-setting cold snap in April came after higher than normal spring temperatures. Late frosts impacted almond and fruit trees in Spain and wine-growing regions in France. Impacts on grain-producing regions in Germany and other countries were small. however.

The current heat wave has led to early harvest in some soft wheat-producing areas. France’s Ministry of Agriculture forecast that 2022 soft wheat production would decline by 7.2% thanks to drought and heat. France is the largest wheat exporter in the European Union and the world’s fourth-largest.

Heat Defeats Italian Farmers, Already in a World of Climate Hurt

Italy, too, has seen a decline in its soft wheat harvest this year. The Italian Association of Millers forecast this week that the soft wheat harvest would come in at 15% under 2021’s number. Durum wheat production, according to the Italian millers, could fall by 10%.

Minster of Agriculture Stefano Patuanelli announced last week that as much as 30% of Italian agriculture will be lost this year due to drought and heat. The government declared a heat and drought emergency in five provinces and Italy’s main farm lobby, Coldiretti, estimates that Italian farmers have lost up to US$3 billion.

The Po Valley Drought Is the Worst in 70 Years

In the Po Valley, the heartland of Italy’s rice growing area, heat and drought have decimated crops. The Po Valley includes the provinces of Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna, Friuli Venezia Giulia, and Piedmonte, some of the most productive land in the country. A farmer there estimated that up to 70% of their crops were already gone. Saline water from the sea normally reaches three miles up the Po. This year, it has intruded up to 18 miles inland, damaging crops irrigated with river water.

Po River drought in heat wave.
The Po River is seeing the worst drought in 70 years thanks to reduced winter-spring precipitation and summer heat waves. Source: SciTechDaily. Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2020-22), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.

Over 50% of Europe and UK on Drought Alert or Warnings

Yesterday, the European Commission published its report “Drought in Europe July 2022“, which found that an unprecedented 44% of land in Europe and the UK is at a drought warning stage, with 9% at the alert level. Winter-spring precipitation deficit was up to 22% more than in 2021 and this is stressing vegetation, especially in the south of the continent. Water Europe estimates that 59% of freshwater use in Europe is for agriculture, with a significant amount used to keep agriculture going in parched Southern Europe.

Water Europe also reports that annual renewable freshwater resources per inhabitant decreased across much of Europe during 1990-2017. The greatest decreases were seen in Spain (-65 %), the greenhouse for Europe, and Malta (-54 %).

In Italy, Minister Patuanelli said that the latest government research showed that Italy had lost 19% of its available water resources from 1991-2020 compared to 1921-1950. He added that the coming decades could see further decreases of up to 40%. Coldretti said that northern Italy has seen half the average rainfall for the last few years. To combat this year’s drought, water rationing has been instituted in cities across Italy.

Too Much of Europe is Burning

This summer’s heat waves have lead to record numbers of fires in forest and agriculture areas. The state of Brandenburg in Germany already has experienced over 260 wildfires this year. Forests in Southwest Europe have been hit unusually hard. Across Spain, over 70,000 hectares (173,000 acres) have burned, around twice the average area in a year. Meanwhile, a record number of hectares have burned in France for this time of year; the fire season has not hit its traditional height.

Hectares burned in France in 2022 in heat wave compared to other years
Hectares burned in France in 2022 heat waves compared to previous years. Source: Dr. Serge Zaka, Asso Infoclimat.

What Might Be Causing Europe’s Disasterous Heat and Drought?

A recent study in Nature posited that Western Europe has been a heat wave hotspot for four decades, with heat events increasing in both frequency and intensity. The study found that there was an increased frequency of and intensity when the phenomenon of the upper atmosphere’s jet stream splitting into two occurred. Heat waves would then develop between the two flanks of the jet stream, leading to the rise in European temperatures. What caused this divide was not clear to researchers.

For most of Europe, the extreme weather impacts from climate change are already easily seen, no matter what the cause. “The moment of real climate crisis is 2022,” Rudolfo Laurenti, Deputy Director of the Bonifaca Po Delta Authority, told CNN.