Floods in Central Europe
New study signals an increase in extreme weather events in Europe in the coming decades. Reuters

Europe faces multiple climate hazards in the coming decades. Changes in climatic conditions across the continent could lead to increased events of heat and cold waves, river and coastal floods, droughts, wildfires and windstorms, especially in the south-western regions, according to a recent study.

The study, published in the journal Climatic Change, found that the major hotspots will be along coastlines and in the floodplains of Europe – areas that are often highly populated and important for the economy. The researchers believe that the study will help European and national authorities to brace themselves for future catastrophes arising from climate changes.

Researchers used climate projections from different global and regional models for their study. The climate hazard indicators were derived for the baseline (1981–2010), 2020s (2011–2040), 2050s (2041–2070) and 2080s (2071–2100).

Major findings

The study showed that heat waves will increase in frequency all over Europe. An area of about 73% will be subject to significant changes, with the figure likely to approach 100% by the end of the century. Southern Europe will be the most vulnerable region as there is a likelihood of the current 100-year events – climate hazard events that occur once in a century – to occur almost every year in the 2080s. The study further revealed that by the end of the century, up to 60% of southern Europe could be annually exposed to a current 100-year heat wave situation.

On the contrary, extreme cold wave conditions are likely to decrease in future with current two-year events likely to occur less than every 100 years by the end of the century, significant almost everywhere in Europe. The report showed a gradual disappearance of the current cold extremes in Europe.

Western, eastern and northern Europe are likely to face increased windstorm events, while Southern regions showed slight reductions in frequency of events as observed in previous studies. Less than 16% of the area of Europe will be subject to change in terms of windstorm events.

Western Europe is likely to see an increase in flood events as well, with current 100-year events occurring every 30 years in the 2080s, but southern, central and eastern regions are likely to see a decline in river flood frequency because of a strong reduction in floods induced by melting of snow-capped mountains.

Up to 70% of western Europe will be subject to flood events largely because of a pronounced increase in average and extreme rainfall. The study added that the frequency of extreme river flood events is likely to vary with time and region.

The study also indicated an increase in recurrence of floods along Europe's coastlines mainly as a result of rise in sea levels, with current 100-year events recurring every two to eight years or even sub-annually in eastern Europe in the 2080s. Rapid intensification of inundations over the Danube delta will affect eastern Europe.

Southern and western Europe are expected to face more frequent dry spells as decline in rainfall and higher temperatures threaten to increase the frequency and severity of streamflow droughts, with current 100-year events likely to occur approximately every two to five years by 2080. By the end of the century, over 25 % of the territories could be affected every year by baseline 100-year droughts, the study noted.

However, northern, eastern and central Europe will see a decline in droughts as a result of increase in rainfall that will outweigh the effects of increased evaporation of surface water and plant transpiration.

Current 100-year events of extreme wildfires will occur every five to 50 years in most of Europe, especially western, eastern and central regions, driven by a progressive rise in significance and model agreement. Southern Europe, however, is likely to witness a decline in the frequency of very extreme wildfire events as a result of limited availability of fuel.