Scorching Summer in Europe Signals Long-Term Climate Changes

People trying to cool down in the Trocadero Fountain in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

PARIS — In Northern Europe, this summer feels like a modern-day version of the biblical plagues. Cows are practically dying of thirst in Switzerland, fires are gobbling up timber in Sweden, the majestic Dachstein glacier is melting in Austria.

In London, stores are running out of fans and air-conditioners. In Greenland, an iceberg may break off a piece so large that it could trigger a tsunami that destroys settlements on shore. Last week, Sweden’s highest peak, Kebnekaise mountain, no longer was in first place after its glacier tip melted.

Southern Europe is even hotter. Temperatures in Spain and Portugal are expected to reach 105-110 degrees Fahrenheit this weekend. On Saturday, several places in Portugal experienced record highs, and over the past week, two people have died in Spain from the high temperatures, and a third in Portugal.

But in the northernmost latitudes, where the climate is warming faster than the global average, temperatures have been the most extreme, according to a study by researchers at Oxford University and the World Weather Attribution network.

By analyzing data from seven weather stations in northern Europe, the researchers found that the closer a community is to the Arctic Circle, the more this summer’s heat stood out in the temperature record. A number of cities and towns in Norway, Sweden and Finland hit all-time highs this summer, with towns as far north as the Arctic Circle recording nearly 90-degree temperatures.

Not only is much of northern and western Europe hotter than normal, but the weather is also more erratic. Torrential rains and violent thunderstorms have alternated with droughts in parts of France. In the Netherlands, a drought — rather than the rising seas — is hurting its system of dikes because there is not enough fresh water countering the seawater.

The preliminary results of the Oxford study found that, in some places, climate change more than doubled the likelihood of this summer’s European heat wave.

“In the past, we had this kind of heat wave once every 10 years, and now we have them every two years or something like that,” said François-Marie Bréon, a climatologist and deputy director of the Laboratory of Climate and Environmental Science, a research institute affiliated with France’s National Center for Scientific Research. “That’s really the sign of climate change: We have heat waves that aren’t necessarily more intense but that are more and more frequent.”

Temperatures that used to be seen as outliers — like those in the summer of 2003 when at least 70,000 people died across Europe — will become “the norm for summer” after 2060, said Jean Jouzel, who was vice chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007 when it won the Nobel Prize.

Occasional heat waves could push temperatures in Europe toward 120 degrees unless there is a dramatic slowdown in global warming trends, he said.

“This really is to enter into another world,” Mr. Jouzel said. “This is a world that France and Western Europe are not used to. For Western Europe, this is truly a major change of climate if we do not fight efficiently against global warming.”

The Dachstein glacier is one of the more dramatic symptoms. The glacier “is melting so fast you can see it with your naked eye,” the meteorologist Klaus Reingruber told journalists.

It has been melting incrementally for many years, but the change became more visible this summer after the hottest June on record since 1767, when the country started keeping track, according to researchers at Innsbruck University.

For Europeans living with the heat day to day, a raft of practical problems has become worrisome — difficulties that might have happened elsewhere or rarely, but never before seemed likely to become facts of daily life.

Climate change is gradually becoming understood here as something that will alter many aspects of how Europeans live, potentially destroy or diminish some parts of the economy, and halt beloved local traditions such as the summer barbecue, which was banned this year in public spots in parts of Sweden to reduce the chance of fire.

“In Europe, each year about 5 percent of Europeans have to face an extreme climate event — be that a heat wave, a flood, a drought. But in the second half of this century, if the global warming is not checked, we could see two Europeans out of every three who have to face extreme climate events,” said Mr. Jouzel, citing a recent study in The Lancet Planetary Health.

It used to be winter storms that closed down airports and delayed flights. But this summer in the northern German city of Hannover, the 50-year-old runways buckled in the 93-degree heat and travelers were delayed for hours.

Across northern Germany, trees, especially saplings, have been hard hit by the drought and cities have been calling on citizens to help local trees. They have responded by dragging garden hoses from their houses or sloshing pails of water to nearby trees.

Throughout the Alps but especially in eastern Switzerland and western Austria, as well as in Ireland, the water shortages have been so severe that there is not enough hay in the pastures to feed local milk cows. So farmers are having to dip into their winter feed stocks, diminishing what they will have for their livestock later in the year.

In Switzerland, where the herds are led to the high pastures in summer to graze, the drought has stranded cows without water. Farmers have turned to the country’s helicopter association and the Swiss Air Force to transport tens of thousands of gallons of water every week to keep the herds alive.

“The situation is very serious,” said Christian Garmann, a spokesman for the Swiss Helicopter Association. “For thousands of years, the cows could get water at small watering holes. Now they are dry in many places.”

The last time the association undertook an aid mission was in the summer of 2003, but this year “the situation is more extreme” with some farmers considering slaughtering their herds, Mr. Garmann said.

Reto Rüesch, the managing director of Heli-Linth, a member of the helicopter association, said his company was running 30 to 40 trips a day, transporting 250 gallons on each run.

In France, the hot weather has not broken records so far. But it is part of an overall trend — this July was one of the three hottest on record — and subtle changes are taking place countrywide. Among them are rising sea levels, which Mr. Bréon, the climate scientist, fears are being underestimated.

“Today, the sea level is increasing by three millimeters per year, or between three and four millimeters,” Mr. Bréon said. “One might think that’s not very much, but I would insist otherwise because it is completely irreversible.”

“Even if we respect the Paris climate accord and manage to stabilize the temperatures at two degrees higher than in the preindustrial era, the level of the sea will continue to rise for many hundreds of years. There are coastal cities that are already condemned,” Mr. Bréon said.

Among them are areas of the Camargue on the Mediterranean, in Brittany both on the English Channel and along the Atlantic coast and in the Vendée and Gironde, the area near Bordeaux. In some places, that is already affecting land and house values as well as bird habitats.

In England, as in almost all of Europe, growing patterns are changing. The drought has increased food prices, and staples may be in short supply this fall.

In July, farmers had to fly in lettuce from overseas to meet contracts with supermarkets. One cargo firm said it flew in 30,000 heads of lettuce from Los Angeles during one hot July weekend alone.

The drought in Ireland means that income for dairy farmers is likely to be cut in half this year, said Teagasc, the state’s farming advisory body.

Sweden has faced some of the most severe repercussions from the hot weather, starting with the forest fires that destroyed more than 61,000 acres of timber, according to David Sundström of the Swedish Contingencies Agency. Wildfires are still burning, although significantly fewer than when they were at their height.

The drought has also severely hurt production of the iconic Scandinavian bilberries (similar to blueberries), cloudberries (similar to raspberries and blackberries, but often yellow or orange), and red lingonberries.

Sylve Bjorkmanm, 62, said he buys berry crops from farmers and brings 1,000 workers from Thailand each year to pick them. In a telephone interview from Vasterbotten in Sweden’s north, where he was looking for berries for his pickers, he said bilberry prices are up 30-35 percent because the hot weather has meant a smaller harvest

The cloudberry harvest was down as well because it was too hot for the beautiful alpine fruit.

“We had an early season and the cloudberries ripened really fast,” said Mr. Bjorkmann, adding that the berry season had outstripped the arrival of the pickers, who came too late.

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