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(L-R) Satellite images show Morzine in the French Alps on 30 December 2021 compared with 25 December 2022. Pic: Sentinel
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Satellite images show dramatic lack of snow in ski resorts as heat in Europe ‘annihilates’ records

The impact of extreme heat in winter is very different to that in summer, bringing snow and water shortages and shrivelling glaciers, which impacts freshwater supply.

Sparse snowfall and unusually warm winter weather have disappointed ski slope operators and holidaymakers hoping for a white winter getaway to some of Europe’s lower-lying mountain resorts.

Instead they are facing patches of grass, rock and dirt, with some resorts forced to close.

Many countries have already smashed new January temperature records as a wave-like pattern in the jet stream brought warm air from further south, exacerbated by global heating by humans.

A weather station in Delemont, in the Jura range on the French border, already set a new January temperature record of 18.1C (nearly 65F) on the first day of the year, over 2.5 degrees Celsius higher than the previous figure.

Professor Liz Bentley, chief executive of the Royal Meteorological Society, said: “There are eight countries across Europe that have broken their January record and a couple of them have absolutely annihilated them – not just by a few [tenths of] degrees.

“In Poland, it’s smashed that record by four degrees. That’s a huge amount.”

Warsaw, the Polish capital, saw 18.9C (66F) on Sunday, 4C higher than the previous average. The other countries with new January records are Belarus, Czechia, Denmark, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Latvia, and Netherlands.

The unseasonally high temperatures follow a record-breaking summer of heat in Europe, and a record year for the UK.

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But the fallout from extreme heat in winter is very different to summer, said Prof Bentley.

In the summer months, extreme heat would bring a “dramatic increase in the mortality rate,” she said.

But in winters, “impacts are more to do with the impact on the ski industry – so, a shortage of snow – and on water supplies – so, vanishing glaciers – but also water shortages, extended droughts because of the increased evaporation from the high temperatures.”

While slopes above 2,000 meters have received snow, in lower-altitude Morzine there are currently only two runs open, while Ax 3 Domaines was forced closed on Saturday after only a few weeks.

Skiers pass on a small layer of artificial snow amid warmer-than-usual winter temperatures in the Alps in Leysin, Switzerland, January 4, 2023. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Meteorologists are Calling it An Extreme Weather Event

It may be mid-winter, but Europe is in a heatwave. Eight countries have broken January temperature records, from Latvia and Belarus in the east to the Netherlands in the west. Warsaw, in Poland, reached 18.9C on New Year’s Day, annihilating the previous record high by four degrees. Normally temperature records are beaten by a few tenths of degree. This time they’ve been smashed by so much, over such a large area, that meteorologists are calling it an extreme weather event. The reason for the heatwave is a mass of warm air that originated in northern Africa, which itself has been exceptionally hot for several weeks. That shows in the sea temperature off the coast of west Africa and in the Mediterranean. It’s currently two or three degrees above normal – and it’s acting as a giant radiator, heating up the air and adding to the effects of climate change. All that hot air has been sucked up to Europe by a shift in the jet stream – the high-altitude winds that wrap around the northern hemisphere. Heat at this time of year means lower energy bills, so it’s probably welcomed by everybody but skiers. But a similar shift in the jet stream lay behind the extreme heat last summer, which increased mortality and overwhelmed our infrastructure. Winter or summer, this is a warming world. 2022 was the hottest year on record for the UK, Ireland and some other European countries. And 2023 is already off to a balmy start.

Prof Bentley said there’s “a lot of confidence” that climate change is making such extreme heat events happen more often and breaking more records.

“And they tend to be more prolonged events where they don’t just last a few days, they can last for weeks on end.”



Victoria Seabrook and Adam Parker at Sky News

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