Whole of Europe prays for rain

Friday 06th May 2011 by theWeather Club

It seems that it is not only us Brits that are suffering from a lack of rain at the moment. New figures show that large parts of Europe are in the grip of a prolonged dry spell. According to data released by the Global Precipitation Climatology Centre (GPCC), 2011 has been an unusually dry year with the months February to April seeing a considerable rain deficit over large parts of the continent.

Broken into 3-month sections the figures over this period showed between 40 and 80% of expected rainfall over parts of the continent using figures based on rainfall between1951 to 2000. Of course these are average figures and in many parts of central Europe the figures dropped well below 40%. They show the UK having extremely dry conditions in March and April especially in the south-east, and experiencing its driest March since 1953. Other parts of western and central Europe all had a dry February, March and April. So far 2011 is one of the driest starts to a year for Switzerland as a whole since 1864. April 2011 was one of the 10 driest April months in Germany since 1881. Interestingly three of the other nine driest German Aprils were in 2007, 2009 and 2010, meaning that four of the ten driest April months in 130 years have happened in the last five years.

The centre's figures also show that Western Europe is emerging from a very dry winter, causing very low soil moisture and other water related problems. According to the German Federal Hydrological Agency, water levels in the Rhine River have fallen low enough to start affecting the inland shipping industry which is essential to the country's economic performance. The dry conditions have also led to increased risks of wildfires. In the Netherlands coastal regions have seen the outbreak of dune fires, while in some northeastern parts of Germany, the Forest Fire Danger Index reached its highest possible level.

The reason of this long-lasting dry period was a highly persistent high pressure ridge over western and central Europe. This pressure system has been blocking the westerly winds that bring cool air and rain into Europe, leading to the hot dry conditions the continent has experiencing. It appears that we may not be in for a break any time soon. According to the centres predictions, this situation is very stable at the moment and could persist for several weeks or even a few months.