Europe's driest summer in 500 years threatens crops, energy production
Historic heatwaves and what the European Commission Joint Research Centre has warned could be the worst drought in 500 years are devastating agriculture across Europe and having major consequences on the energy sector, including hydropower generation and power plant cooling systems.
European map showing the combined drought indicator, which sets three levels of alert based on the analysis of precipitation, soil moisture and vegetation stress. As of the end of July, large parts of Europe were under one of these categories with <a href="https://joint-research-centre.ec.europa.eu/jrc-news/droughts-europe-july-2022-almost-half-eu-uk-territory-risk-2022-07-18_en">almost half of the EU plus UK territory at risk</a>.
European map showing Land Surface Temperature Anomalies. The map shows how warmer temperatures than usual were registered in western Europe and some southeastern countries such as Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania in July.
Expected yields for both winter and summer crops have been cut in Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain and Ukraine due to drought conditions and heatwaves.
Western Europe experienced a prolonged first heatwave in May, then in mid-June, and again at the beginning of July, with temperatures rising well above normal in most of eastern and northern Europe that month. Those early heatwaves caused further stress on crops and accelerated snowmelt in the Alps.
A map shows the contrast between two neighbouring regions: the Alps, where early snowmelt is accelerating plant growth and the Po valley, where drought is causing stress on vegetation.
Emergency in northern Italy
In Italy, the Po River basin faces the highest level of drought severity, according to the GDO. A drought emergency has been declared in five Italian regions and water use has been restricted in several Italian cities. Similar measures to restrict water use have been taken in France.
The federation of Italian utility companies, Utilitalia, warned in June that the country's longest river, the Po, was experiencing its worst drought for 70 years, leaving many sections of the vast, northern waterway completely dried up. The drought has meant salt water from the Adriatic sea is flowing back into the sluggish Po, Italy's longest river, doing further damage to crops hit by an early summer heatwave.
A part of the Po valley near Piacenza, Italy, as captured by
Northern Italian regions risk losing up to half their agricultural output due to drought, as lakes and rivers across much of Italy are running dangerously low.
Other rivers stretching into central Italy were also far lower than normal for this time of year. Farmers in Tuscany, the heart of Italy's prized wine and olive oil industry, are battling to salvage as much as they can of this year's crop from drought and heatwave. A lack of rainfall since spring has even affected plants that traditionally thrive in hot and dry conditions.
The drought has left parched villages without safe drinking water and forced them to rely on water deliveries by truck.
The lack of water prompted state-run utility EDF (EDF.PA) to curb nuclear power generation that relies on water to cool reactors.
The corn harvest is expected to be 18.5% lower this year compared with 2021, the agriculture ministry said, just as Europeans contend with higher food prices as a result of lower-than-normal grain exports from Russia and Ukraine. Meanwhile, a shortage of fodder for cows because of the drought meant there could be a shortage of milk in the months ahead, the National Federation of Farmers' Unions said.
A map of Europe shows the percentage difference between the cumulative hydropower run-of-river generation and storage levels for the week 26 of 2022 compared to the 2015-2021 average for the same week.