Sunday, July 12, 2020

Are we facing another drought?

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Noch the meteorologists are careful with comparisons, it is far too early for a reliable forecast, and one also knows about the weaknesses of long-term forecasts. It is the usual appeasement, then comes the but: The current weather situation fatally reminds us of the beginning of the devastating drought in 2018. It has barely rained for weeks, early summer breaks in mid-April, the floors are dry with dust, the risk of forest fires is also high and the prospects promise little hope of rain. Luckily the Easter bonfires are canceled due to the Corona crisis.

“The situation is similar to two years ago,” says Tobias Fuchs, head of the climate department at the German Weather Service. The air is similarly dry, similarly warm, the radiation is equally strong, the floors are similarly dry. And even then, a high over Central Europe replaced the next and directed lows past the continent, the period of drought began. The evidence is there, but no one can yet assess whether it will stay that way. So it cannot be reliably predicted whether the drought will repeat itself.

In eastern Germany, however, people are already worried about harvesting and forests. In some regions, the weather authority has just announced the highest forest fire warning level. The top ten centimeters of soil have already fallen dry, and there is hardly any water down to a depth of 1.80 meters. On the Germany map of the drought monitor from the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research in Leipzig, many regions are still colored dark red, the highest of all five drying levels still prevails: here there has been drought since 2018 and there is no end in sight. Nature would not be able to cope with the third extreme dry year in a row. The question that concerns climate researchers is: Does climate change dry spring more often? In any case, there is a lot to indicate that it has been raining less in the spring months for twenty years, but the sun shines more often, and the temperatures have risen by 1.3 degrees compared to the long-term mean from 1961 to 1990.

April does what it wants, it was said earlier

It becomes even clearer if you analyze April. Formerly moody, the spring month now brings almost stable and stable weather. The last wet April was twelve years ago, each year more than a third of the expected monthly precipitation is missing on a nationwide basis. Saxony is hardest hit, with only more rain than usual in one of the past 23 years, and April was particularly dry in 2007. In addition, since the temperatures rose and the sun burns longer from the sky, a disproportionate amount of water evaporates, which the plants need at the beginning of the growing season.

Another problem could arise in the middle of the corona crisis. One that both researchers and activists are currently drawing attention to – with increasing volume: climate change is not taking a break because of Corona. A dry spring could serve as a reminder for some.

It remains to be seen whether the drought in the spring, which has been increasing for twenty years, will reflect a climate trend. But researchers are currently looking closely at the forecasts for the coming days and weeks. In the short term it cools down a bit, a few showers move through the country, but nothing will change in the general weather situation. A new high will build up after Easter. However, these prospects are less worrying for meteorologists than the long-term forecast of the European Weather Service in Reading near London. Its rather experimental model predicts that there will be too little rain in Central Europe over the next seven months, and the drought will increase.

Such models are fraught with great uncertainty and their informative value for Europe is low, Florian Pappenberger, who is responsible for it in Reading, appeases. But as a last indication of an impending drought, the experience of meteorologists can be used: blocking high-pressure weather conditions are considered to be very stable, they can last for weeks, sometimes even months. Hopefully the weather experts are wrong this time.

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