WMO: 2023 off to warm start, breaking records in Europe

Record-breaking heat was observed in several European countries on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has confirmed.

Temperatures above 20°C were observed in many European countries. Some national and many local temperature records for December and January were broken in several countries from Spain to eastern parts of Europe, WMO said. In Iceland at the end of 2022, the picture was reversed, with unusually cold temperatures observed in December.

Exceptional weather

A high-pressure zone over the Mediterranean region and an Atlantic low-pressure system induced a strong south-west flux that brought warm air from north-western Africa to middle latitudes.

At Spain’s Bilbao airport, a reading of 25.1°C on 1 January smashed the previous all-time record established 12 months earlier, by 0.7°C. And in the eastern French city of Besançon, usually chilly at this time of year, temperatures hit a new all-time high of 18.6°C on New Year’s Day, 1.8°C above the previous record, dating back to January 1918.

In the German city of Dresden, the 1961 New Year’s Eve record of 17.7°C was left trailing by the 19.4°C reading taken on 31 December 2022. Further north, in Denmark’s Lolland island, 2023 started with a new high of 12.6°C, overtaking the 12.4°C record set in 2005.

However, the picture was not the same across Europe. In Iceland, temperatures were unusually cold over the festive season.

Suburbs of Reykjavik, capital of Iceland, on New year’s eve © Teitur Thorkelsson

“While southernly winds brought warm air to the north, northerly winds pushed cold air southward over the Atlantic close to Iceland,” Halldór Björnsson, meteorologist at the Icelandic Met Office told UNRIC. “The result is that December 2022 is the coldest December on record since 1973 in Iceland and the coldest for 100 years in Reykjavik. However, the autumn had been unusually mild in Iceland and November was the warmest ever.”

2022 records smashed

These records come as some European national meteorological services, including in Spain, France, Germany and the United Kingdom, announce that 2022 will be the hottest year ever recorded in their respective countries.

The UK recorded an average annual temperature of over 10°C for the first time, with a provisional figure of 10.03°C. This made the year 0.89°C above the 1991-2020 average and 0.15°C higher than the previous record of 9.88°C set in 2014. A study by the country’s Met Office showed human induced climate change made the record-breaking annual temperature around 160 times more likely.

Urgent climate action

Temperatures over Europe have warmed significantly over the 1991-2021 period, at an average rate of about +0.5°C per decade, the highest of any continent in the world and more than twice the global average, according to WMO’s 2021 Europe State of the Climate Report.

With immediate action now, the drastic impacts of climate change can still be prevented, but countries are not on track to fulfil the promises they have made.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres says he is determined for 2023 to be a “year for action”. He announced he will convene a Climate Ambition Summit in September, and called on every leader to “step up – from governments, business, cities and regions, civil society and finance.”

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