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Europe’s Warmest Winter on Record Forces Closure of Ski Slopes

by Martina Igini Europe Jan 5th 20233 mins
Europe’s Warmest Winter on Record Forces Closure of Ski Slopes

Europe is dealing with its warmest winter on record, with the mercury hitting up to 19C (66F) in Poland and the Czech Republic, where average temperatures this time around are typically around freezing or below and even surpassing 25C (77F) in Italy and Spain. At least eight countries have so far recorded their warmest January day ever.

2023 is off to a rough start in Europe. After a frigid Christmas, the continent is now dealing with what has been dubbed the “warmest winter on record”.  In some countries, temperatures are currently up to 15 degrees higher than normal.

At least eight countries have experienced their warmest January days. The night of December 30-31 was France’s warmest since records began. Meanwhile, the mercury hit highs of 25C (77F) in parts of Italy and Spain and surpassed the 20C (68F) mark in several areas of Germany, something that hasn’t happened since record began in 1881. 

Temperature records have also been broken in hundreds of ski sites from Austria to Poland to Hungary. The latter recorded its warmest Christmas Eve and on the first day of the year, temperatures in the capital Budapest reached 18.9C (66.02F). In Switzerland’s Jura mountain range, the mercury hit 18C (64.4F). The country, home to some of Europe’s most beautiful ski slopes, is warming two to three times faster than the global average, with a 2C rise in temperatures over the past 150 years.

The lack of snow and unprecedented warmth likely brought by a mass of warm air arriving from western Africa, have forced hundreds of popular ski resorts in key tourist areas to shut down. From the Alps and the Apennine to the Pyrenees, Europe’s iconic mountain ranges are a beloved winter holiday destination. In recent years, however, they have become the perfect representation of the unfolding climate crisis and its consequences on ecosystems and the environment.

“The record-breaking heat across Europe over the new year was made more likely to happen by human-caused climate change, just as climate change is now making every heatwave more likely and hotter,” Dr Friederike Otto, climate scientist at Imperial College London, told Reuters.

Adelboden, a municipality in the Bernese Highlands and host of the ski World Cup on Saturday announced that te race will take place entirely on artificial snow. But given the dire situation, many now wonder if the tournament can go ahead at all, as snow on slopes is replaced by mud and grass. Even at 2,000 metres (6,500ft), temperatures these days are above freezing.

A recent study by the University of Basel warned that ski resorts will have to increase their reliance on artificial snow as global warming progresses; and given the elevated amount of water required for marking snow, from now until the end of the century, resorts’ water consumption is expected to increase by about 80%, up to 540 million litres compared with 300 million litres used today.

This is not the first time scientists warn of the repercussions of a warming planet on winter sports. Many believe that the future of the popular Winter Olympics – an event that every four years brings together about 3,000 athletes from all over the world to compete in 15 disciplines – is uncertain. According to a study from the University of Waterloo, at the current trend, only one of the 21 cities that hosted the games in the past 100 years will have a climate suitable for winter sports by the end of the current century.

Featured image by Laurent Gillieron/Associated Press

You might also like: The Uncertain Future of the Olympic Winter Games

About the Author

Martina Igini

Martina is the Managing Editor at Earth.Org. She holds two BA degrees, in Translation/Interpreting Studies and Journalism, and a MA in International Development from the University of Vienna. After working at the United Nations Global Communication Department in Vienna, she joined a newspaper in Italy as a reporter before moving to Hong Kong in 2020. Her interests include sustainability and the role of public policy in environmental protection with a focus on developing countries.

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