Europe set for unusually warm winter but faces cold blast in December

Europe faces a higher-than-usual chance of a cold blast of weather before the end of the year, but the winter overall is likely to be warmer than average, the continent's long-range weather forecaster said Thursday.

Europe set for unusually warm winter but faces cold blast in December

Temperatures this winter will be crucial for homeowners worried about the record cost of heating their homes, and for European policymakers seeking to avoid energy rationing due to cuts in Russian gas supplies.

“We see the winter as being warmer than usual,” said Carlo Buontempo, director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service that produces seasonal forecasts for the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF).

“Nevertheless there is a still a significant chance of a block situation, which can lead to cold temperatures and low wind over Europe,” he told AFP as the service issued a monthly update to its forecasts.

A so-called block or blocking pattern in the winter can bring stable, often wind-free weather accompanied by freezing temperatures.

“This was looking more likely in November, but there now looks like a pronounced probability of a cold outbreak in December,” Buontempo said.

The ECMWF produces weather modelling with data from a range of national weather services around Europe.

Its forecasts are based on indicators such as ocean and atmospheric temperatures, as well as wind speeds in the stratosphere, but do not have the accuracy of short-range reports.

The models provide the “best information possible, to give a hint, to guide our decisions”, Buontempo said.

The European winter was expected to be warmer than usual because of the “La Nina” global weather phenomenon, which is related to cooling surface temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean.

“We know that in a La Nina year, the latter part of the European winter tends to favour westerly winds, so warm and wet,” Buontempo said.

The agency will update its winter season forecast next month when it will have greater confidence because “all the drivers for the winter will be more active”, he said.

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Why Denmark’s extra grey January can cause winter blues

Denmark has seen considerably greyer and wetter weather this January than is average for the month. Experts have offered advice on how to deal with the darker seasons.

Why Denmark’s extra grey January can cause winter blues

Windy, grey and rainy weather have made this January a dull one so far, according to DR’s meteorologist Thomas Kaa Mørk in an article on the broadcaster’s website.

“Until Tuesday this week, 107.6 millimetres of rain have fallen [in January]. That’s the third-largest amount in January since records began in 1874,” Mørk told DR.

Additionally, this month has so far seen 17.3 hours of sunshine. The normal total for January is 52 hours, so with 11 days of the month remaining it looks like the average will not be reached.

A chronic lack of sunshine can make the first month of the year begin to feel interminable, professor of photonics at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU), Paul Michael Petersen, told DR. Petersen researches the effect of light on human health.

“Having a healthy life is dependent on the light in our surroundings. At the same time, unhealthy light can have a large negative consequence for people,” he said.

“The problem in Denmark is that there’s simply not enough light, and the light we do have doesn’t really have the right colours to make us well-functioning,” he told DR.

“This was useful in the past because when it was dark, there was no reason to spend a lot of energy finding food, because it was hard to find. But today it’s not very useful to be partly in hibernation when you arrive at work,” he said.

“The best thing you can do to compensate for the lack of light in January is to be outside a lot during daytime especially in the morning and afternoon,” he said.

Feeling lower on energy in winter compared to summer is not solely due to the light, though, another expert told DR.

“The days are short and you might have less mental energy to do the things that are good for your mental health. But it’s important not to just go home after work and sit down and slump,” researcher Charlotte Bjerre Meilstrup, who leads the project ABC for mental sundhed (mental health) at the University of Copenhagen’s Institute for Psychology, said to DR.

The project has three specific pieces of advice that can be applied at times when the winter month of January really feels like it’s dragging, she said.

“Do something active – this could be something physically active, but it could also be mental. Read a book or solve a sudoku,” she said to DR.

Being active with others, limiting isolation, is also important at a time of year when there are fewer public events going on.

“Do something together – being part of a community or something for other people has a huge impact on mental wellbeing,” she said.

Finally, the mental health expert advised doing “something meaningful – and remember that what is meaningful for others is not necessarily meaningful for you”.