Europe’s drought is on track to be the worst in 500 years, warns the European Commission’s researcher

The drought gripping much of the EU is set to be the worst since the sixteenth century, a senior researcher at the European Commission’s (EC) Drought Service has warned.

“At the moment… this appears to be the worst” year in 500 years, although a full analysis needs to be done in hindsight, said Andrea Toreti, senior researcher at the EC’s Joint Research Council, which collects data for the European Drought Observatory.

“We haven’t fully analyzed the incident, but based on my experience I think this is perhaps even more extreme than in 2018,” he said, responding to a question from Sky News during a briefing.

“2018 was so extreme that when we look back at this list over the last 500 years, there were no similar events,” due to the combination of hot and dry weather, explained Toreti, who published a study on historical drought a year after the event . four years ago.

That year, particularly dry and hot weather left central and northern Europe with yields of key crops up to 50% lower, but “favorable” wet conditions in southern Europe saw yields rise.

The extremely rare “seesaw” effect buffered the bloc from the effects of the regional drought by preventing higher volatility and price increases.

This year, “on the contrary, most of Europe” is exposed to intensified heat waves and dry weather, he said. drought affects food and energy production, drinking water and wildlife.

“This year is really exceptional,” he added.

The latest data from the European Drought Observatory (EDO) shows around 45% of the bloc’s territory under “warning” conditions, the second of three drought categories, in the 10 days leading up to July 20.

More worryingly, the 15% of the country has moved into the most severe “warning state”, meaning not only is the soil drying out after little rain, but plants and crops are suffering as well.

EDO combines measurements taken on the ground, satellite data and images and complex computer modeling to paint a picture of how the territory is coping.

Italy is one of the worst affected by the ongoing drought, declaring a state of emergency for the areas around the Po River, which accounts for more than a third of the country’s agricultural production.

France has set up an emergency team to deal with the worst drought on record that has left parched villages without safe drinking water and farmers warning of milk shortages in the winter.

Large areas of Romania, Hungary and Ukraine are also withering, and tinderbox conditions are fueling wildfires in Spain and Portugal.

The growing lack of water in reservoirs, rivers and stored underground means the territory now needs more rain than normal to compensate, Toreti said.

The amount of land in drought is expected to creep up further.

“We have projected a worsening of the situation in most of Europe,” Toreti said.

Climate breakdown makes Mediterranean droughts more severe and more likely, although not all droughts globally are to blame.

The causes of drought are complex, but climate change affects it in two key ways. It concentrates precipitation into shorter, more intense bursts, making it harder to hold onto, and produces warmer temperatures that evaporate more water.

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