Climate Change

Europe fastest-warming continent, shows WMO 2023 report

European waters were the warmest on record in 2023

By Preetha Banerjee
Published: Tuesday 23 April 2024
Photo for representation: iStock

Europe warmed at double the rate of the global average, making it the fastest-warming continent in 2023, according to a new report by the World Meteorological Organization. 

The year was the second-warmest for Europe, with average temperatures 1.02-1.12 degrees Celsius above the normal for 1991-2020 reference period. This is about 0.13-0.17°C cooler than the average temperature experienced in 2020, the continent’s warmest year on record, the findings showed. 

Some parts of eastern Europe, however, were warmer by up to 2.6°C compared to the pre-industrial period, making 2023 the joint-warmest year along with 2020. “Parts of the Alps were up to 2.3°C above average,” the authors of the report noted. 

The continent experienced the most number of days with ‘extreme heat stress’ and a decrease in the number of days with ‘cold stress’. The global meteorological agency defines ‘extreme heat stress’ as the condition when the ‘feel like’ temperature is higher than 46°C. 

Number of days with extreme heat stress

“Both the minimum and maximum temperatures for the year as a whole were also above average across much of Europe,” the authors of the report pointed out. 

Drought conditions prevailed in parts of the continent in April, May and June, while March and July saw the most wildfires. Barring February and December, incidents of flooding was reported on all the months. 

The European waters were also the warmest on record in 2023, WMO noted. Marine heatwaves hit parts of the Atlantic Ocean in June and the Mediterranean Sea in July and August, with the sea surface temperatures more than 5°C above average. 

Apart from the month of May, Europe witnessed warmer than average temperatures every month of 2023, the authors of the report noted. “The year began with warm anomalies across much of Europe, with temperatures up to 5°C above average across a large area in January.”

March displayed a similar trend in most of the continent and April-May was well-above-average for Iberia and northeastern Europe, while the central and northwestern parts were near-normal or cooler than usual. 

In June, northern Europe was warmer than normal and southern parts cooler than the average. But right in July and August, the pattern reversed completely: Northern Europe was cooler than normal, whereas the southern regions experienced extreme heatwaves, WMO observed, adding:

September saw the most widespread much-warmer-than-average conditions, with only small parts of Spain and Iceland seeing slightly below-average temperatures.

“The anomalies were highest in September, when they reached up to 6°C higher than average,” the organisation noted. 

The last three months of the year were also warmer for the continent as a whole. But the Fennoscandia region comprising Norway and Sweden (Scandinavia), Finland and the Russian regions of Kola and Karelia, were exceptionally cold during this time, with temperatures dipping 6°C below normal. 

Because of the consistent and rapid heating, the Alps mountain range, which consists of Europe’s highest peak Mont Blanc, lost 10 per cent of its glacier volume in the last two years, 2022 and 2023. In 2023, the glacier’s on the range reduced in volume by 4.4 per cent compared to the previous year. 

Glacier volume loss in the Alps

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