Europes Drought Is the Worst in 500 Years
The drought is being dubbed the worst in 500 years. It is said that no European summer has been so dry since 1540, when a year-long drought killed tens of thousands. This year's dry spell comes on the heels of a record-breaking heatwave that saw temperatures in many countries reach historic highs. Some of Europe's largest rivers, including the Rhine, Po, Loire, and Danube, are incapable of supporting even mid-sized boats. As water levels have dropped, sunken ships and ominously named hunger stones, rocks engraved by previous generations during previous periods of extreme dryness, have emerged from the depths.
The effect has been crippling. Water transport has suffered greatly, with cascading effects. Power production has been disrupted, resulting in electricity shortages and an increase in energy prices that have already been driven up by the conflict in Ukraine. Food is significantly more expensive in many countries, and in some areas, drinking water is rationed. Previous European droughts, including those in 2003, 2010, and 2018, were also compared to the 1540 event. The 2018 drought was described as the "worst in 500 years," much like it is now. However, a senior scientist at the European Commission's Joint Research Centre said last week that this year could be worse than 2018, though data was still being analysed.
The most visible impact, aside from agriculture and drinking water supplies, has been the disruption in Europe's waterways. Europe relies heavily on its rivers to transport cargo, including coal to power plants, in an economical manner. Water levels have dropped to less than a metre in some places, rendering most large ships unusable. Coal supply disruptions have impacted power generation. Water scarcity has hampered the operation of nuclear power plants, which rely heavily on water as a coolant. As a result, there is a power outage and an unprecedented rise in energy prices. Household energy costs in the United Kingdom are expected to double by October from April levels. Winter power outages are being discussed.
The Worst Segment:
According to a "analytical report" released on Tuesday by the Global Drought Observatory (GDO), an agency of the European Commission, approximately 64% of the continent's landmass was experiencing drought conditions as of August 10. And, as of that date, the situation was only "worsening."
Agricultural drought affected nearly 90% of the geographical area in Switzerland and France, 83% of Germany, and 75% of Italy. Some areas, particularly the United Kingdom, have received rain in the last week, but it has only made a minor difference to the overall situation. Droughts are a natural part of the climate system and are not uncommon in Europe. The severity of this drought is what makes it stand out. The unusual dry spell was caused by a prolonged and significant deviation from normal weather patterns.
The severity of the situation:
Rainfall has been scarce in a number of countries. The UK experienced its driest July since 1935, and France experienced its driest July since 1959. The Netherlands, which receives a lot of rain, is having one of the driest years on record, and Germany only received half of its normal rainfall in July. Rainfall has been below average since the winter.