Europe’s winter energy crisis will likely coincide with mild temperatures during peak heating months, climate model says

Europeans and people living on the US East Coast are more likely to experience mild temperatures than a deep freeze this winter, easing any potential heating-fuel constraints at a time when energy costs are soaring.

Scientists at the Copernicus Climate Change Service, which updated its seasonal outlook Thursday, said temperatures probably will be significantly above normal during the peak heating season between December and February.

Abnormally high temperatures could slacken demand for natural gas, which European countries have been rushing to put into storage. Russia’s war on Ukraine propelled prices for the fuel to record heights, contributing to a cost-of-living crisis across the region.  

The scientists said there’s a 50%-60% probability that the UK, much of the Mediterranean coast and parts of central Europe will see well-above-average temperatures. The rest of the continent has a 40%-50% chance of significantly exceeding historical averages. 

The Copernicus model brings together data from scientists in the UK, France, Germany, Italy and the US. The European Union program uses billions of measurements from satellites, ships, aircraft and weather stations for its monthly and seasonal forecasts.

Yet the outlook for a mild winter isn’t universal among meteorologists. Commercial US forecaster Commodity Weather Group holds that Europe’s winter likely will be colder than last year and slightly cooler than the 10-year average, as measured by heating degree days.

That’s a way to use temperatures to gauge energy demand, with higher numbers reflecting more cold and more fuel being burned for heating.

Commodity Weather calculates a value of 2,330 this winter, compared with last year’s 2,085 and the 10-year average of 2,233, meteorologist William Henneberg said. Europe’s winter likely will be volatile, marked by shifting periods of cold and mild readings. 

“We certainly can’t rule out a big cold outbreak at some point in the winter, but the overall pattern may be driven more by weak cold fronts moving through frequently,” he said.

The continent is racing to find substitutes for ever-dwindling supplies of natural gas from Russia as the Kremlin’s weaponization of energy boosts consumer bills and shoves economies to the brink of recession.

Gas prices are more than four times higher than usual for the time of year. Germany warns of blackouts and rationing, and the UK has the smallest margin of backup power supplies in seven years.

A colder winter will reduce Europe’s chances of getting through this heating season “relatively unscathed,” said Katja Yafimava, senior research fellow at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies.

“Blackouts and industry closures could not be ruled out,” she said.

Europe’s winter in an energy crisis

As winter unfolds across the Northern Hemisphere, meteorologists will be closely watching the Arctic. Circling the pole is a girdle of winds called the polar vortex, and if they should weaken, frigid air could come spilling south into the US, Asia or Europe. 

It’s difficult to predict when the vortex may break down, and Judah Cohen, director of seasonal forecasting at Atmospheric and Environmental Research, has spent years searching for hints.

One potential indicator is the amount of snow building up across Siberia in October, he said. If snowfall is strong, somewhere — Europe, North America or Asia — likely will get blasted with an Arctic wave.

Todd Crawford, director of meteorology at commercial forecaster Atmospheric G2, sees no evidence of a breakdown that could foster the type of killer cold that crippled the Texas electrical grid last year.

“At this time, there are no strong reasons to believe a notably weakened vortex is likely this winter,” Crawford said.

Another important piece will be high and low pressure over Greenland called the North Atlantic Oscillation. That’s “one of the main signals affecting Europe,” said Bradley Harvey, a meteorologist with commercial-forecaster Maxar.

Weather watchers should look for signs this is shifting to its negative phase because that means Europe and the eastern US may turn frigid. A positive phase can mean a milder winter.

Copernicus also predicted that temperatures across almost the entire continental US are expected to significantly surpass average, with certainty exceeding 70% in Texas and other parts of the south. The Tokyo and Beijing regions also are predicted to avoid excessive cold.

The chance of below-normal rain and snow across swathes of central Europe is greater than 40%, potentially affecting river flows and ski slopes.

In the US, northern states are projected to receive more precipitation than normal, with parts of Oregon and Washington registering a 60% probability of wet weather.

Rainfall will be influenced by the ongoing La Nina across the equatorial Pacific. The world is poised to have its third La Nina in a row, something that’s only happened twice since 1950. 

— With assistance by Elena Mazneva

Sign up for the Fortune Features email list so you don’t miss our biggest features, exclusive interviews, and investigations.

Source link