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Thousands of records shattered in historic winter warm spell in Europe

At least seven countries saw their warmest January weather on record on New Year’s Day

Temperatures compared to normal (in degrees Celsius) over the past few days. (weatherbell.com)

As 2022 turned to 2023, an exceptionally strong wintertime heat dome pounced on much of Europe, producing unprecedented warmth for January. As temperatures soared 18 to 36 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 20 Celsius) above normal from France to western Russia, thousands of records were broken between Saturday and Monday — many by large margins.

The extreme warm spell followed a record-warm year in many parts of Europe and provided yet another example of how human-caused climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of such extraordinary weather events.

On New Year’s Day, at least seven countries saw their warmest January weather on record as temperatures surged to springtime levels: Latvia hit 52 degrees (11.1 Celsius); Denmark 54.7 degrees (12.6 Celsius); Lithuania 58.3 degrees (14.6 Celsius); Belarus 61.5 degrees (16.4 Celsius); the Netherlands 62.4 degrees (16.9 Celsius); Poland 66.2 degrees (19.0 Celsius); and the Czech Republic 67.3 degrees (19.6 Celsius).

Those who track worldwide weather records described the warm spell as historic and could hardly believe its scope and magnitude.

Maximiliano Herrera, a climatologist who tracks global weather extremes, called the event “totally insane” and “absolute madness” in text messages to the Capital Weather Gang. He wrote that some of the high nighttime temperatures observed were uncommon in midsummer.

It’s “the most extreme event ever seen in European climatology,” Herrera wrote. “Nothing stands close to this.”

Guillaume Séchet, a broadcast meteorologist in France, agreed, tweeting that Sunday was one of the most incredible days in Europe’s climate history.

“The intensity and extent of warmth in Europe right now is hard to comprehend,” tweeted Scott Duncan, a meteorologist based in London.

Here are some of the most impressive records that were set in Europe on New Year’s Day:

While the most extreme temperatures occurred on New Year’s Day, exceptionally mild weather began on New Year’s Eve.

Scores of calendar day and monthly records fell on Saturday, surpassing marks set just a year before in many instances.

The Czech Republic’s weather service tweeted that the country posted its warmest New Year’s Eve on record. Prague, with 247 years of measurements, set a new monthly maximum of 63.9 degrees (17.7 Celsius).

Here are some of the more significant temperature records set Saturday:

  • France saw impressive record values such as a high of 76.6 degrees (24.8 Celsius) in Verdun. The country as a whole saw its warmest New Year’s Eve.
  • Six of nine federal states in mountainous Austria saw their warmest Dec. 31 on record. Temperatures were as warm as 64.9 degrees (18.3 Celsius) in Aspach.
  • Luxembourg set a December record for the country with 64.0 degrees (17.8 Celsius) in Wormeldange. Belgium reached a December record high of 63.5 degrees (17.5 Celsius) at Diepenbeek.
  • Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler bested Germany’s highest December minimum as it only dipped to 59.5 degrees (15.3 Celsius).

Monday marked the third day of widespread high temperatures previously unheard of in midwinter. Many more monthly and daily records were set in the eastern half of Europe, particularly in Germany, Hungary, Romania and Russia.

By Tuesday, the places where temperatures will be the most above-average are likely to shift toward Ukraine. After that, the warmth should ease some.

This exceptional wintertime warmth comes on the heels of the warmest 2022 in many parts of Europe, including in the U.K., Germany and Switzerland.

Extreme heat visited Europe in waves throughout the year and was intensified by a historically severe summer drought. The combination helped push the United Kingdom to 104 degrees (40 Celsius) for the first time on record in July.

The science of heat domes and how drought and climate change make them worse

Although the warmth is slowly easing in Europe as Arctic air creeps in from the northeast, above-normal temperatures are forecast for much of the mainland region through at least Jan. 10. After that, the forecast is a little less clear, but a cooler pattern could emerge by mid-month.

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