European drought concerns surface after rain shortfall

Scientists have raised serious concerns that Italy and France could face another drought this summer after the Alps received less than half of their normal snowfall in recent weeks.

The Alps have received less than half their normal amount of snowfall, while water levels on Lake Garda in northern Italy have fallen to record lows

Already the lack of precipitation is having an effect, with unusually low tides affecting Venice, making it extremely difficult for gondolas, water taxis and ambulances to navigate some canals.

The problems in Venice are currently compounded by a high-pressure system, a full moon and sea currents.

Meanwhile, France has matched its record dry spell of 31 days without significant rainfall, the country’s weather service said, amid concerns over water reserves in parts of Europe still reeling from last year’s severe drought.

With rainfall over the entire country  of less than one millimetre a day since 21 January,  Meteo France said the absence of precipitation equals the record set in spring 2020.

The number of days without rain has “never been seen” in winter before in records going back to 1959, Meteo France said.

Indeed, last month was the third-warmest January on record in Europe, with temperatures on New Year’s Day reaching all-time highs in some parts of the continent, according to the European Union’s Copernicus climate monitor (C3S).

In Spain, one of the European countries most exposed to the risk of drought, water reserves are currently at an average 50.7% of capacity, compared to an average of 60.8% over the last 10 years, according to the latest national hydrological bulletin.

In some regions the situation is even more serious: Barcelona and large swathes of Spain’s north-eastern region of Catalonia have imposed water restrictions due to the lack of rain. 

The measures include banning the use of drinking water to wash the exterior of houses or cars or to fill swimming pools, and reducing the amount of water used for irrigation.