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WEATHER

Shivering Europe hopes for weekend respite as deep freeze persists

Europe's deep freeze, which has cost more than 60 lives over the past week, continued to wreak havoc early on Saturday as the shivering continent awaited a sliver of weekend respite from a brutal Siberian cold front.

Shivering Europe hopes for weekend respite as deep freeze persists
Icicles hang on a bench in a bay in the village of Attersee, Austria on Wednesday. Photo: Wolfgang Spitzbart
After heavy snowfall and deadly blizzards lashed Europe, conditions marginally improved in some regions on Friday — although temperatures generally remained sub-zero, forcing more major delays on roads, railways and at airports.
 
But Britain's Met Office said the Arctic temperatures were set to rise.
 
“After the extreme weather many of us have seen recently many will see conditions ease a little through the next few days,” it said.
 
In France, the forecast this weekend was for rain rather than the kind of heavy snowfall that has blanketed vast tracts of Europe.
 
The deadly chill has been caused by weather blowing in from Siberia. British media have dubbed the front “the Beast from the East,” while the Dutch have gone for the “Siberian Bear” and the Swedes plumped for the “Snow Cannon”.
 
Over the past week, the freezing conditions have claimed more than 60 lives, according to an AFP toll, including 23 in Poland, seven in Slovakia, six in the Czech Republic and five in Lithuania.  Other deaths were recorded in Spain, Italy, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Britain, the Netherlands, Sweden and Norway.
 
France has seen at least nine weather-related deaths, including four skiers killed by an avalanche on Friday in the Alps, which have seen particularly heavy snowfall. A 41-year-old Libyan man was found dead in an empty train carriage in the
western French town of Saintes. Police suspect he died of hypothermia, but could not be sure.
 
In Austria meanwhile, five migrants abandoned by smugglers were rescued from a motorway near the city of Graz on Friday, some of them walking barefoot in sub-zero temperatures, according to police.
 
Switzerland has seen the mercury plummet to records of up to -40C (-40F) in the ongoing blizzard, which has even covered usually balmy Mediterranean beaches with a blanket of snow.
 
Geneva's busy airport announced it had re-opened shortly after midday Friday “despite the unfavourable meteorological conditions”, having warned earlier it faced staying shut for a second consecutive day as snowstorms continued to lash the Swiss city. Airport authorities warned, however, of further “delays and cancellations”.
 
Italy was also still stuck in sub-zero temperatures with a number of major roads blocked because of snow and black ice as forecasters warned the country's northern and central regions would see little immediate improvement. Many schools remained closed and local authorities told people to remain indoors unless they urgently needed to travel.
 
Elsewhere in Europe, Serbia and Croatia saw some improvement but two people died overnight in Poland as temperatures plunged to a low of -27C (-16.6F). They were set to remain as low as -17C across the day in some areas even as forecasters spoke of a relative weekend thaw.
 
Folldal, a small village in central Norway, saw a record European low for recent days of -42C during the night. Even so, residents used to harsh conditions were sanguine.
 
“Life is generally ongoing,” mayor Hilde Frankmo Tveren quipped to broadcaster TV2.

WILDFIRES

Europe facing record year for wildfire destruction: EU

Europe's blistering summer may not be over yet, but 2022 is already breaking records, with nearly 660,000 hectares ravaged since January, according to the EU's satellite monitoring service.

Europe facing record year for wildfire destruction: EU

And while countries on the Mediterranean have normally been the main seats of fires in Europe, this year, other countries are also suffering heavily.

Fires this year have forced people to flee their homes, destroyed buildings and burned forests in EU countries, including Austria, Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

Some 659,541 hectares (1.6 million acres) have been destroyed so far, data from the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) showed, setting a record at this point in the year since data collection began in 2006.

Europe has suffered a series of heatwaves, forest fires and historic drought that experts say are being driven by human-induced climate change.

They warn more frequent and longer heatwaves are on the way.

The worst-affected country has been Spain, where fire has destroyed 244,924 hectares, according to EFFIS data.

The EFFIS uses satellite data from the EU’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS).

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How the climate crisis is hitting Europe hard

The data comes after CAMS said Friday that 2022 was a record year for wildfire activity in southwestern Europe and warned that a large proportion of western Europe was now in “extreme fire danger”.

“2022 is already a record year, just below 2017,” EFFIS coordinator Jesus San-Miguel said. In 2017, 420,913 hectares had burned by August 13, rising to 988,087 hectares by the end of the year.

“The situation in terms of drought and extremely high temperatures has affected all of Europe this year and the overall situation in the region is worrying, while we are still in the middle of the fire season,” he said.

Since 2010, there had been a trend towards more fires in central and northern Europe, with fires in countries that “normally do not experience fires in their territory”, he added.

“The overall fire season in the EU is really driven mainly by countries in the Mediterranean region, except in years like this one, in which fires also happen in central and northern regions,” he added.

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