Floods, Record Warmth, High Winds: It’s the Winter of 2018, European Edition

January 27, 2018, 5:43 PM EST

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Above: A view of the rain-swollen River Seine as water levels increased on Friday, January 26, 2018 in Paris, France. Image credit: Photo by Mehdi Taamallah/Nurphoto.

When it comes to extreme weather, Europe—typically more placid than North America—has been giving its western counterpart a run for its money. Much like North America, Eurasia is getting record warmth on its west side and periods of brutal cold on its east side, along with some notable storminess and hydrologic extremes (trending toward the wet, though, as opposed to the expanding drought now gripping America).

The culprits for these dual patterns are strong, recurrent upper-level ridges over the far North Pacific and North Atlantic. These have been pushing warm air into western North America and Europe and guiding cold fronts into eastern North America and eastern Asia. They’re also feeding into a lively scientific debate on how warming across the Arctic is affecting midlatitude winters, a topic we explored in depth in a 2017 post. We’ll revisit this discussion in a forthcoming post. In the meantime, here’s a quick tour of some recent wild-weather highlights from Europe and Asia.

Floodwaters invade Paris

The Seine River in Paris reached a level of 5.71 meters (18.7 feet) at noon Saturday and is expected to crest just below the 6.07 meters (19.9 feet) produced by the destructive floods of June 2016. Both floods have topped anything else observed in the last 36 years.

Flooding in France, 1/26/2018
Figure 1. The bar Les Nautes (right) is submerged on a flooded bank of the Seine River in front of Notre-Dame Cathedral on January 26, 2018. In its relentless rise, the Seine flooded quays with muddy water and put museums on an emergency footing as record rainfall pushed rivers over their banks across northeastern France. Image credit: Photo by Michel Stoupak/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

This winter’s floods have been fed by enormous January rains around and upstream from Paris, with heavy snows across the French Alps. As reported by Pam Wright at weather.com, Paris racked up 183 mm (7.20”) of rain for the period Dec. 1–Jan. 21, twice the long-term average for the period and second only to the 213 mm (8.36”) recorded in 1935-36. Further up the Seine watershed, Langres had already broken its all-time January rainfall record as of Jan. 21 with 199 mm (7.83"), beating 184.8 mm (7.28") from 1984.

This week’s flooding closed streets along the Seine and forced some 400 residents downstream from the city to evacuate. The Louvre museum—which scrambled to relocate 35,000 pieces of art in just 24 hours during the 2016 flood—closed one of its lower levels on Thursday as a precaution. Flash floods in July 2017 damaged several of the Louvre’s paintings.

Flooding in Paris inevitably brings comparisons to the city’s 1910 disaster, when the Seine rose to 8.62 meters and some 22,000 buildings were flooded. A 2014 review by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) noted that a repeat of the 1910 Paris flood could affect up to 5 million people and cause up to 30 billion Euros (about $37 billion US) in damage. OECD released an update on Tuesday: “Action to prevent the risk of major flooding in Paris and the Ile de France region has improved in recent years – particularly after the Seine burst its banks in May and June 2016 – but urban and territorial planning needs to be better adapted, governance strengthened and long-term funding clarified.”

Temperature anomalies for Europe, 1/24/2018
Figure 2. Unusually warm air swept across Europe on Wednesday, January 24, 2018, bringing the warmest temperatures on record for January in some areas. Image credit: Climate Reanalyzer, via Etienne Kapikian, @EKMeteo.

A January “warm wave”

Wednesday was the mildest January day on record across parts of northern Europe. This includes the coastal German town of Cuxhaven, which reached 13.8°C (56.8°F). At Sønderborg, Denmark, a nationwide January heat record was set with 12.9°C (55.2°F), topping the nation’s old monthly record of 12.4°C (54.2°F) from 2005.

Parts of western Europe now have a good shot at ending up with their warmest January on record. Geneva, Switzerland, has been running more than 1°C (1.8°F) above its previous record for the month as a whole, and France is likely to eclipse its monthly record set in 1936, 1988, and 2014 by as much as 0.3°C (0.5°F). Cannes, France, set a new monthly high on Jan. 4 with 22.9°C (73.2°F).  With help from warm downslope winds, Jan. 22 saw the warmest daily lows ever recorded in January over parts of southern France, including 14.5°C (58.1°F) at Montpelier. All-time January highs were set on Monday in the Spanish cities of Valencia (26.6°C/79.9°F) and Barcelona (23.8°C/74.8°F).

At the same time that parts of the central and eastern U.S. suffered through their coldest holiday week on record, western Europe was smashing heat records. Both France and Germany had their warmest New Year’s Eve on record. An analysis by Michael Theusner (Klimahaus) showed that 183 of Germany’s 224 stations with at least 50 years of record had their warmest Dec. 31 on record. Leipzig-Holzhausen, where records began in 1863, beat its previous record-mild New Year’s Eve (1901) by 1.3°C with a high of 13.7°C (56.7°F).

Temperature anomalies for Europe, Jan 1-25, 2018
Figure 3. Departures from average surface temperature (degrees C) across Europe for the period Jan. 1-25, 2018. The month was running more than 5°C (9°F) above average over parts of western Russia, with much of central and western Europe 2-4°C (3-6°F) above average. Image credit: Courtesy Todd Crawford, The Weather Company.

Two destructive windstorms in one month

Winter Storm David/Friederike, which plowed across Europe last week, caused around $1 billion Euros (about $1.25 billion US) in damage across Germany, reported the nation’s federation of private insurers on Thursday. Friederike has been blamed for at least 11 deaths across Europe. The storm produced the strongest winds measured in 26 years on northern Germany’s highest mountain, the Brocken, with a top speed of 203 km/hr (126 mph).

Winter Storm Eleanor, which struck on Jan. 2-3, may also end up being ranked as a billion-dollar storm, according to Steve Bowen (Aon Benfield). Eleanor knocked out power to more than 200,000 homes in northern France.

Davos: Digging out from snow as world leaders pour in

Massive amounts of snow fell on Davos, Switzerland, in the days leading up to the start of the 46th annual World Economic Forum. As the meeting began Tuesday morning, there was 157 cm (61.8”) of dense, compacted snow on the ground, according to the Switzerland Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research (which happens to be located in Davos). The snow depth was well short of the January record of 216 cm (85”), but it’s the first time such a snow dump has coincided with the high-profile Davos forum.

“In perhaps the most harrowing indignity for the plutocrats who have made the World Economic Forum their favorite winter meeting ground, even the town’s helicopter pad was closed because of the snowstorm,” reported The New York Times. “By early afternoon, a quarter-mile trip in one of the ubiquitous black luxury minivans with plush leather seats that shuttle participants around the town took nearly an hour."

Journalists atop snow in Davos, 1/23/2018
Figure 4. Two journalists rest on the snow on Tuesday, January 23, 2018, the opening day of the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. Image credit: Photo by Peng Dawei/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images.

The blue line in the illustration below shows the snow depth at the Davos Stilli station, calculated every half hour by an automated measuring system. During very heavy snow, there can be so much compaction that the amount of snow on the ground holds steady or even decreases even as more snow falls. WU weather historian Christopher Burt discussed the challenges of measuring extreme snowfall in a December post.

Snowfall at Davos/Stilli, Switzerland, Jan. 17-23, 2018
Figure 5.  Daily snowfall totals at the Davos Stilli measuring site (1563 meters or 5138 feet) at 7:30 am local time each morning for the period Jan. 17-23, 2018. The solid blue line indicates snow depth as measured every half hour by an automated system. The week saw a total of 170 cm (66.9”) in daily snowfall amounts, yet the total on the ground (blue line) increased by a much smaller amount. Compaction can greatly reduce the total snow depth relative to how much snow has fallen. Image credit: Switzerland Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research.

A month with just six minutes of sunshine

December 2017 was the least sunny month since weather records have been kept in Moscow, Russia. The city managed to eke out a mere six minutes of sunshine for the entire month, beating the previous monthly scant-sun record of three hours, set in 2000. If skies are clear, Moscow can get up to seven hours a day of sunlight even in December, but last month was incredibly stingy: the city saw just 0.0005% of its potential sunshine for the month!

If it’s any comfort to Muscovites, London had an even gloomier time of it in December 1890. During that whole month, the city recorded no sunshine at all. (The Victorian era’s rampant pollution no doubt contributed to the dankness.)

Coldest air in decades for parts of East Asia

Strong surface high pressure and very cold air pushed into Mongolia, northern China, the Korean Peninsula, and Japan this week, leading to some uncommonly low temperatures even for places accustomed to frigid winter conditions. Readings fell as low as –53.2°C (–63.8°F) at Tsetsen-Uul, a peak in western Mongolia. Parts of extreme northeast China saw their coldest weather since 2001, including Tiluhe, which plummeted to –47.8°C (–54.0°F) on Thursday.

As the bitter-cold air spread across the relatively mild Sea of Japan this week, it produced some spectacular “sea effect” cloud patterns (see satellite loop in embedded tweet below).

Tokyo dipped to –4°C (25°F) on Thursday, its coldest reading in 48 years. The last time Tokyo got that cold was on Jan. 17, 1970. Several other Japanese cities had their lowest temperatures on record, albeit for datasets extending only back to the 1970s, including Otaki (–24.9°C on Thursday), Saitama (–9.8°C on Friday), and Ome (–9.3°C on Saturday 1/27).

The Winter Olympic Games were beset by unusually mild conditions in 2010 in Vancouver, Canada, and in 2014 in Sochi, Russia, where temperatures hit 68°F. South Korea is in a more appropriate weather mode for the 2018 games, which will take place in February at Pyeongchang, about 60 miles east of Seoul. On Friday, temperatures dropped to –17.8°C (0°F) at Seoul, more than 20°F below average. Seoul’s all-time low is –23.1°C (–9.6°F) on Dec. 31, 1927.

The period from late December into January has been one of the coldest on record for parts of South Korea, reported the Korea Herald.

Special thanks go to Maximiliano Herrera, Etienne Kapikian, Jérôme Reynaud, and Michael Theusner for providing many of the statistics in this post.

The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.

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Bob Henson

Bob Henson is a meteorologist and writer at weather.com, where he co-produces the Category 6 news site at Weather Underground. He spent many years at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and is the author of “The Thinking Person’s Guide to Climate Change” and “Weather on the Air: A History of Broadcast Meteorology.”


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