In the Spanish coastal town of San Sebastián, residents traded jackets for T-shirts and went to the beach to swim. In Rome, tourists and locals strolled in the sun in light sweaters. And in low-lying areas of the Pyrenees, a lack of snowfall forced some French ski resorts to close trails.
The unusually warm opening days of January broke dozens of weather records across Europe. Meteorologists called the warm wave and the records it broke “staggering” as several countries saw the warmest start to the year on record.
For example, in Brest, Belarus, temperatures usually hover around freezing, but on New Year’s Day they reached a record high of 60.6 degrees Fahrenheit, or 15.9 degrees Celsius. Temperatures in the Czech Republic on Monday, according to the national meteorological officeequaled or broke records dating back at least 30 years at 90 of the country’s 162 stations.
Warsaw residents enjoyed the mildest start to the year since 1999, with a high of 66 degrees Fahrenheit. Latvia, Lithuania and the Netherlands also experienced record heat on New Year’s Day. France recorded its warmest winter night since 1947 just before the New Year, said Météo France, the country’s national forecaster.
While temperatures have cooled in some areas in recent days, the unusual warmth capped a year of already historic highs, with Britain, France and Spain announcing that 2022 was expected to be their warmest year on record following a summer of heat waves.
While linking a single heat wave or warm spell to climate change requires analysis, it is clear that global warming is causing heat waves around the world to become hotter, more frequent and longer-lasting.
“The record-breaking heat across Europe over the New Year was made more likely by human-induced climate change, just as climate change is now making any heat wave more likely and hotter,” says Dr. Friederike Otto, senior lecturer at the Grantham Institute – Climate Change and Environment at Imperial College London, said in a statement. “As long as greenhouse gas emissions continue, heat waves like this will become more frequent and more intense.”
Despite being a balmy respite from the wintry cold, the uncharacteristic heat disrupted some of the seasonal activities and caused much concern.
It forced some ski resorts in low-lying mountain ranges like the Pyrenees and Vosges to close trails during their high season. At mid-altitude resorts in the Northern Alps, Robert Vautard, a scientist and a coordinating lead author of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said it rained instead of the usual snow at Christmas. “You have grass, you have no snow,” he said. “Obviously it’s unusual, but it’s not unprecedented.”
In Switzerland, where temperatures reached a record 68 degrees north of the Alps on New Year’s Day, the Swiss resort of Adelboden-Lenk, which hosts a World Cup skiing next weekend, installed artificial snow.
“This winter is like summer, suffocating,” says Josu Cires, 52. On Wednesday, he drove to his job as a beer salesman in the northern Spain city of Bilbao, where temperatures have soared above 77 degrees — more typical of July than January. Mr. Cires said the heat bothered him. “The scenery is beautiful, but the body suffers.”
Unusual heat in Spain’s Basque Country, normally one of the country’s rainiest areas, prompted the regional government to issue an emergency warning on New Year’s Day, citing the risk of wildfires.
In Germany, a headline proclaimed, “T-shirt weather on New Year’s Eve in Bavaria.” In a normal year, visitors to the region’s Christmas markets fight the cold with mulled wine. In Munich, the temperature on New Year’s Eve was above 68 degrees, the highest ever recorded on that date.
A fast-moving, warm air mass from the tropical Atlantic moved into western and central Europe, causing the unusual heat, said Mr. gases that humans dump into the atmosphere. “Everything is warmer, the ocean is warmer, and therefore all the air coming out of the ocean is warmer.”
“It’s completely exceptional at this time of year,” he added. “It’s what we called record-breaking extremes.”
Britain has also experienced milder than usual temperatures, with a record high of 61 degrees in London on New Year’s Day, according to the Met Office.
“The temperatures observed in Europe are astounding,” Scott Duncan, a London meteorologist who has been monitoring temperature rises, said in an email. “We saw long-standing records being broken by large margins in several countries.”
The warmer temperatures in Europe come after Arctic air blanketed the United States last month, bringing freezing temperatures and a deadly blizzard that buried parts of the country. It was possible there was a “weak to moderate” connection between that storm and the warm weather in Europe, Mr. Vautard.
“It’s pretty common that when it gets cold in the U.S., we get warm temperatures and vice versa,” he said, adding that the storm that swept across the United States was dragging air from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean, where it mixed with other air masses, and that the atmosphere was turbulent at this time of year. “Things can get chaotic,” he said.
Reporting contributed by Aureline Breeden in Paris, Christopher F. Schuetze in Berlin, Emma Bubola in Rome, and Jose Bautista in Madrid.