Table of contents

3.1.3. Extreme weather events

Climate change has resulted in changes to many extreme weather events globally and in Europe (EEA, 2017b, 2017a). Further changes in the frequency, intensity and location of such events are projected throughout Europe (Forzieri et al., 2016). Extreme weather events relevant for the energy system include heat and cold waves, coastal, pluvial and fluvial floods, wind storms and hail storms. Forest fire danger is also linked to climatic conditions; it is highest when warm, dry and windy conditions coincide.

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Heat waves have become much more frequent and intense in recent decades as a result of human-induced climate change. For example, 65% of Europe has experienced all-time record high temperatures in the period 2003-2010 alone. Further temperature records in Europe were broken in subsequent years. Extreme summer heat waves, such as those experienced in different parts of Europe in 2003 and 2010, will become much more common in the future. For example, at the end of the 21st century, 90 % of the summers in southern, central and north-western Europe are projected to be warmer than any summer in the period 1920–2014 for a high emission scenario (EEA, 2018c).

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The intensity of heavy precipitation events has generally increased since the 1950s in northern and north-eastern Europe, whereas changes have been more inconsistent in southern and south western Europe. Heavy precipitation events are projected to become more frequent in most parts of Europe in the future (EEA, 2016c). As a result, an increase in the occurrence and frequency of inland floods (i.e. pluvial and fluvial floods) is projected for most parts of Europe. The risk of early spring flooding could decrease in regions with projected reductions in snow accumulation during winter, such as some parts of north-eastern Europe (EEA, 2017h).

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Wind storms do not show robust long-term trends so far, partly due to limited data availability. Climate change simulations show diverging projections on changes in the number of winter storms across Europe. However, most studies agree that the risk of severe winter storms, and possibly of severe autumn storms, will increase for the North Atlantic and northern, north-western and central Europe over the 21st century (EEA, 2017j).

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Forest fire occurrence is linked to seasonal meteorological conditions, forest management practices, vegetation coverage and various socio-economic factors. These variations make it difficult to assess historical trends in forest fires. Fire danger indices such as the Canadian Fire Weather Index (FWI) and Seasonal Severity Ratings (SSR) have been developed in order to rate fire potentials caused by weather conditions. Projections for these indices suggest that the duration and severity and area at risk of forest fires will increase in the future in most European regions with the possible exception of northern and central eastern Europe (EEA, 2016a; de Rigo et al., 2017).

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