Warmest Autumn in Forever No Winter for Europe

Central Europe is experiencing its warmest winter in 500 years and the Alps haven't been this warm in over a millenneum. Ski resorts are suffering, as are the bears.

Only two weeks before the official start of winter, Europe is sweating. An unusually warm autumn -- which was last week credited for Germany's fourth quarter economic surge -- is forcing ski resorts to market hiking holidays, and bears to seek out places cold enough to hibernate.

Indeed, Germany is experiencing its warmest autumn in 500 years. Germany's average temperature from September to November this year was 12 degrees Celsius (54 degrees Fahrenheit), a full 3.2 Celsius degrees higher than the median temperature from 1961 to 1990.

Scientists are basing the claim on temperature records -- collected as far back as 1659 -- and information derived from other sources like monks' journals in old monasteries. "Weather historians have assembled all the available information for each given month," Jürg Luterbacher, a climate researcher with the University of Bern climate researcher, told SPIEGEL ONLINE.

More importantly, Germany's not alone. "An exceptionally warm autumn in a region proves very little," Luterbacher told the online magazine Nature. "But the data are consistent for the whole of Europe -- from Iceland to Greece."

Alps are warmest in 1,300 years

Indeed, Germany's warm autumn is only part of a larger trend. Reinhard Böhm, a climatologist at Austria's Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics, says Europe's Alps are warmer today than anytime in the past 1,300 years.

A group of European institutes have reconstructed more than a millennium of weather patterns in the region from France's Rhone Valley in the west to Hungary in the east, and from Germany's Nuremberg area in the north to Italy's Tuscany in the south. Their research found relatively stable temperatures over that time, aside from a warm spell between the 10th and 12th centuries. But, according to Böhm, even that phase was "slightly under the temperatures we've experienced in the past 20 years."

Böhm attributes the warming trend during the last two decades to greenhouse gases produced from the burning of fossil fuels. Fossil fuel consumption "has led to ever higher temperatures since the 1980s, and the models indicate that it's going to get even warmer in the future," he said.

That's spells bad news for people like Wilma Himmelfreundpointner, deputy director of Austria's St. Anton tourist office. She told the AP that some Austrian ski resorts are trying to attract tourists with hiking instead of skiing this year. "What can you do? One can't change the weather," Himmelfreundpointner said. The weather has even been too warm to fire up the snow cannons at ski resorts -- the snow melts as soon as it hits the ground.

Just as the warm weather is depriving ski towns of their winter revenues, it's depriving animals of their winter slumber. From Siberia to Estonia, bears are reportedly struggling to hibernate because their normal hideaways this year are uncomfortably warm, damp and slushy.


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