A drone image shows San Biagio island, affected by drought in Lake Garda, near Lido di Manerba, Italy.
Copyright  REUTERS/Alex Fraser

In pictures: Parts of Europe face risk of drought after historically low winter rainfall

By Rosie Frost

Europe saw the third warmest January on record at the beginning of this year, according to the Copernicus climate monitor.

It comes after 2022 was the second hottest on record with Italy, Spain, the UK and France setting temperature records.

Now low rain and snowfall mean parts of Europe face concerns about the impact of drought on farming, drinking water supplies and energy generation.

NICOLAS TUCAT/AFP
The completely dry riverbed of the Issole River in Flassans-sur-Issole, southeastern France.NICOLAS TUCAT/AFP

Italy faces another year of drought

Weeks with no rain or snow have raised concerns that Italy could face another year of drought after last summer’s dry weather. Lakes and rivers have a severe lack of water, especially in the north of the country.

Scientists say the Alps have received less than half their normal snowfall for this time of year and 63 per cent lower in the basin of the Po River. The river is currently 3.3 metres below its normal dry point. It is rarely this low even in the height of summer.

Rainfall in the north of the country was 40 per cent lower than average in 2022, according to Italy’s National Research Council. It could impact hydropower energy, water supplies for farming and access to drinking water.

AP Photo/Luigi Costantini
Boats are docked along a canal during a low tide in Venice, Italy.AP Photo/Luigi Costantini

In Venice where floods are usually the main concern, unusually low tides have made it impossible for boats like gondolas, water taxis and ambulances to make their way through the city’s canals. The problem has been blamed on a lack of rain, high-pressure weather systems, the full moon and sea currents.

“If we continue at this pace, we will always chase after emergencies,” says environmental group Legambiente. 

REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
Skiers pass on a small layer of artificial snow amid warmer-than-usual winter temperatures in the Alps in Leysin, Switzerland.REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

France goes a record number of days without rainfall this winter

France has seen a record dry spell of 31 days without significant rainfall, Meteo France, the country’s weather service said on Tuesday. Across the entire country, rainfall has been less than one millimetre a day since 21 January.

VALENTINE CHAPUIS/AFP
A boat is stranded on the beach, on the edge of Lake Montbel, south-western France.VALENTINE CHAPUIS/AFP

Winter is usually the time when vital precipitation refills water supplies. But the number of days without rain has “never been seen” before at this time of year in records going back to 1959, Meteo France says.

At the beginning of February, the department of Bouches-du-Rhône in southeast France was put on high drought alert with 17 communes particularly badly affected.

NICOLAS TUCAT/AFP
A woman sits next to a partially dried lake near Tourves, southeastern France.NICOLAS TUCAT/AFP

Officials said on 9 February that “2022 was marked by high temperatures” and a 33 per cent deficit in rainfall. The current meteorological situation has led to restrictions on the use of water for residents.