The weather in Western Europe this month could easily have been mistaken for mid-winter. Around the French mountain community of Little Saint Bernard, very close to the border with Italy. In the Alps, the snow ploughs have been out daily.
They can keep the road clear in the Serra de Estrela in the middle of Portugal, but the last time they had snow there this late in the year was eight years ago.
A tourist who found it bewildering said: “It is very strange, but I think the whole of Europe had a very long winter, but I didn’t expect snow in the Serra de Estrela in May.”
The northern Spanish city of Burgos felt temperatures drop to 3ºC on May 15.
In the French interior they’ve been averaging 4-5 degrees below normal, so people have kept the heating going. An extra tank of fuel for that cost an ordinary family household 445 euros – at 90 cents a litre.
This has meant a 5-10 percent rise in electricity consumption, compared to previous years – similarly for combustible pellets.
A local supplier said: “Just like for liquid fuel customers, we’ve had quite a few stocking up on a few extra sacks of pellets to finish the winter, and, unlike normal years, we’re still getting requests to install fire-places.”
It’s also a near record wet spring; only a few in the past four decades had more rain. In Erfurt, Germany, steady, wind-driven downpours caused damaging floods. On 18 May, almost 47 litres of rain fell per square metre.
In the north of Italy, in the Venice region, they were afraid the Bacchiglione River would burst its banks on May 17.
Rice farmers were washed out.
One said: “Early estimates are that we may lose 30 percent of the crop, maybe more, if this goes on. A lot of farmers couldn’t even get to their fields to plant seed.”
And try selling spring footwear when it is like February outside. Stores have been deserted, where their goods depend on seasonal conditions. Nice or not, if you can’t wear them, they won’t sell.
Cafe and bar terraces were like an aquarium.
Businesses and holiday planners alike are left wondering: will Western Europe get a proper summer after all this?
Well, to find out, euronews spoke to the Royal Belgian Institute of Meteorology. Jean-Marc Linden is a meteorologist.
euronews: “Have we ever had such a terrible spring? and why is this happening?”
Jean-Marc Linden: “Unfortunately we still have cold airstreams. The reason is that for the moment we have an anticyclone over the middle of the Atlantic Ocean that is channelling depressions via Iceland, directly to Western Europe. And these are cold airstreams, often disturbed, often unstable, so we will keep getting below normal temperatures. Today for example we are seeing a temperature 10 degrees [Celsius] below the average for this season… and it is going to be like that until the end of the month.”
“The cold airstream is being pushed from the poles to the Benelux countries, France and parts of England. And a section of this cold stream has become detached. This is what is called a ‘cold drop.”
“You need to know that if is cold in Western Europe, it is very warm in places like Russia … Finland … where the temperatures could get as high as 25-30 degrees. [Celsius] It’s often like that in Europe, when there is a really long period of cold in one part, there are very warm temperatures on the opposite side of the continent. It is like a see saw, right now one part of Europe is warm, while we are on the not so good side.”
euronews: “Here is the million euro question… after a horrible spring, how is it going to be during the summer ?
Jean-Marc Linden: “This is the question every meteorologist dream of answering… There is no link between a cold spring and a warm summer, or the opposite. An atmospheric circulation.
Atmospheric circulation means you can experience many different weather conditions in a relatively short time.
So, you could get subtropical conditions developing quite fast, this would mean temperatures of around 25 – 30 degrees for France and the Benelux countries.
But to get this, we would need an anticyclone over the centre of Europe – Bulgaria, for example, and then we here would have rising hot air which would last three weeks. But it’s impossible to say what is going to happen.”