Heatwaves contribute to severe drought conditions in Europe

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Heatwaves contribute to severe drought conditions in Europe

As another heatwave hits the European continent, drought conditions and water scarcity in several regions are reducing crop yield and affecting energy production.

A staggering portion of Europe is currently exposed to warning (44% of EU+UK) and alert (9% of EU+UK) drought levels, associated with soil moisture deficit in combination with vegetation stress, according to a report by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre.

Early heatwaves in May and June and a persistent lack of precipitation have caused dry conditions which have exacerbated drought and caused water and heat stress for crops. 

The lack of precipitation means soil water content has been reduced significantly, making it harder for plants to extract water from the soil. This has led to widespread stress on vegetation, namely in the Italian lowlands, in southern, central and western France, in central Germany and eastern Hungary, Portugal and in northern Spain.

In several European countries, crop yield and crop yield potential for summer, winter and spring crops has therefore been reduced.

In Italy, the Po River basin is facing the highest level of drought severity and a drought emergency has been declared in five Italian regions. Insufficient water availability has led to water use restrictions across the country’s municipalities and similar measures have also been put into place in neighboring France in 68 départments.

Furthermore, withstored water volumes are also depleted and in multiple countries, river discharge has been severely affected. As a result, there have been impacts on the energy sector for both hydropower generation and cooling systems of other power plants. 

In Spain, volumes of water stored in reservoirs are currently 31% lower than the 10-year average. In Portugal, hydroelectric energy stored in water reservoirs is at half the average of the previous seven years. What’s more, both countries are experiencing conditions that are extremely favorable for wildfires.

Additionally, energy production from run-of-river plants until the beginning of July was lower than the 2015-2021 average for many European countries, notably in Italy (-5039 GWh compared to the average), France (-3930 GWh) and Portugal (-2244 GWh). 

The same decrease is true for hydropower reservoir levels, affecting countries such as Norway, Spain, Romania, Montenegro and Bulgaria, among others. 

Consequently, hydroelectric and thermoelectric power production operations across countries are being reduced or even suspended. 

The unfavorable forecasts for the coming months consist of severely drier than normal conditions in large areas of Europe, which, if confirmed, will exacerbate drought severity and the impacts on agriculture, energy and water supply. 

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