Summer times are a-changin'… Europe experiences regional extremes
Europe has experienced regional extremes of floods, fires and droughts in 2012. In late April, temperatures reached all-time highs in central and Eastern Europe; temperatures climbed well above the seasonal norms, while Western Europe experienced weeks of heavy rain. Meanwhile, a hosepipe ban had been implemented in the UK until July, as groundwater levels had been at record low levels following a two-year drought.
The European Commission's in-house science service, the Joint Research Centre, delivers timely information and alerts to the Monitoring and Information Centre (MIC) in DG ECHO (Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection) and to the relevant authorities in the Member States via its semi-operational systems to forecast and monitor risks related to flooding, forest fires and droughts.
Probability of more than 50mm rainfall within the next 10 days
The European Flood Awareness System (EFAS) is designed as an early warning system that provides pan-European overview maps of flood probabilities up to ten days in advance of a flood. This information is delivered to the Commission and Member States (MS) to enable them to better prepare for potential crises. EFAS will be fully operational as of September 2012, and is now outsourced to and managed by organisations in the Member States. Despite the heavy rain experienced in Western Europe earlier this year, EFAS did not detect any significant large scale flood events in Europe this summer.
EFFIS– Current Situation
The European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) of the JRC monitors the fire situation in Europe and the Mediterranean area, and regularly sends updates of its findings to DG Environment and the MIC during the fire season, which normally extends from March to October every year. It provides daily meteorological fire danger maps and forecasts of fire danger up to 6 days in advance, updated maps of the latest hotspots (active fires) and fire perimeters. The damages caused by forest fires in the European and Mediterranean region is computed in EFFIS and updated frequently during the fire season.
In June 2012, several serious forest fires broke out in Greece, which had been experiencing hot and dry weather conditions combined with strong winds. This led to Greece activating the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, whereby the MIC organised the dispatch of firefighting aircraft. Spain experienced its worst forest fires in over a decade in late June/early July, when four large fires broke out near Valencia burning some 54 000 ha, severely affecting the local populations and leading to one fatality. Bulgaria was also affected by forest fires in early July and activated a request for firefighting assistance through the MIC. In late July a large fire affected the Catalonia region in Spain, where an area of around 14 000 ha was burnt and four people lost their lives. The fire spread rapidly due to extremely hot and windy conditions. Fire danger conditions remain extreme in the Mediterranean region for the 2012 forest fire season, which will last until the end of October.
Through its European Drought Observatory (EDO), the JRC compiles a series of drought indices on a continental level which it complements with drought indices prepared by national, regional or local organisations. Satellite, meteorological and numerical simulation models derive information which allows for the mapping of the geographic extent of ongoing droughts.
Based on detailed analyses of rainfall anomalies, soil moisture conditions and vegetation water stress status, drought experts at the JRC can make quantitative assessments of drought impacts regarding current and forecasted drought situations.
The new EDO website (http://edo.jrc.ec.europa.eu), which was launched in 2012, provides the fundamental data and tools for an analysis of the current drought situation in Europe.
At the beginning of spring 2012, anomalous drought conditions occurred in several regions of western Europe (Iberian Peninsula, France, UK), Italy and Hungary. The most critical conditions were recorded at the end of February 2012, when the shortage of rainfall in the previous autumn and winter seasons contributed to significant soil moisture deficits in Spain, Portugal, southern France and northern Italy. In the UK and Ireland the major impact was reduced levels of water in reservoirs and river flows. However, due to limited plant activity in that period, the impact on vegetation was less significant.
Drought conditions were alleviated by rainfall which occurred in April and which continued to fall throughout the early summer in some of the drought-affected regions. In fact, at the beginning of July (see above map), no anomalies were evident, the only exceptions being in very localised areas of central Italy and north-central Spain.
- European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS)
European Forest Fire Information System: current situation in Europe
(14 August 2012)
IES interviewed by SKY TG 24 about forest fires in Europe
(7 August 2012)