Meteorological autumn has only just reached its halfway point, but AccuWeather meteorologists are already looking ahead to what the winter will usher in weather-wise, and this week, they released their annual winter forecast for Europe. Meteorological winter begins on Dec. 1, and astronomical winter will get underway on Dec. 21.
Even with winter officially about two months away, rising energy costs and coronavirus concerns continue to loom large over the continent. With some Europeans already facing exorbitant energy bills, the prospect of a cold winter may also mean an expensive winter.
In order to help residents across the continent prepare, AccuWeather's team of long-range international forecasters breaks down what Old Man Winter has in store for Europe. Expert meteorologists -- Tyler Roys, a senior meteorologist who has been with AccuWeather for nearly a decade, and Alan Reppert, a senior meteorologist who has been with the company for 20 years -- answer all of the pressing questions about the season and more.
La Niña, similar to its influence over weather patterns in the United States and Canada, will be in the driver's seat for Europe this winter, too. But other factors will come into play. How much will the polar vortex impact the weather in the season to come? And where will windstorms wreak havoc? Read on for a detailed region-by-region forecast of the upcoming season.
As the landscape changes colors and trees begin to shed their leaves, the dominant storm track across Europe will also undergo a transition of its own. AccuWeather forecasters say a southward shift in the overall storm track across the continent will force rounds of stormy weather to take aim at southern Europe and the Mediterranean Sea this winter.
In many ways, the upcoming winter across the southern portion of the continent will have echoes of last year's winter, a year also heavily influenced by a La Niña pattern.
Windstorms are forecast to dive across Spain and southern France at a steady clip this winter, according to Roys.
Last winter, 12 windstorms were named by the meteorological agencies of France, Spain, Portugal and Belgium. Typically, a windstorm is given a name by the meteorological agency of the region set to be subject to the worst impacts from the storm.
Not surprisingly, strong and damaging winds are the primary danger associated with windstorms, but they can also unload torrential rainfall.
"Some of the strongest windstorms are most likely to happen somewhere in southern France, Spain or Portugal this winter," Roys cautioned.
Any windstorm that initially impacts Spain or southern France can even go on to bring adverse weather to areas farther south and east. Even without windstorms, other portions of Southern Europe are in for a soggy winter.
Abundant moisture is forecast to flow from the Mediterranean into Italy, the Balkans and into much of Turkey this winter. According to Reppert, due to this steady stream of moisture, these areas will encounter storm after storm.
Winter is the region's wettest season, and while rounds of stormy weather can go a long way toward filling depleted reservoirs, another less desirable impact is likely to develop at times. After record-shattering rain events doused areas along the Mediterranean, including southern France and Italy, this autumn, even moderate amounts of rainfall could result in rapid runoff and swollen rivers reaching a breaking point, which could cause significant flooding.
Forecasters have pinpointed at least one portion of southern Europe that will largely miss out on the worst of the stormy weather. Southern Portugal and southwestern Spain are forecast to encounter periods of calm weather this winter, which may be great news for some key crops like grapes, oranges and olives. This region is the largest olive producer in the world, Roys noted.
Temperatures this winter across much of Southern Europe are expected to remain around average for the season. However, temperatures in portions of Italy, Greece and the Balkans can climb above normal at times, according to Roys.
Unlike areas influenced by the Mediterranean Sea that are forecast to stay near, or even a few degrees above normal, AccuWeather forecasters say interior portions of Eastern Europe will be in the bull's-eye for unseasonably cold air this winter.
"If a shot of cold air is ejected by the polar vortex, the core of that cold is going to end up settling in over parts of Eastern Europe," Roys explained.
The area at the most risk for temperatures several degrees below normal this winter includes an area from central Ukraine, northward to Latvia and Estonia and as far west as Slovakia and Poland.
As if abnormally cold conditions weren't enough, Old Man Winter will have another trick in store for the region. The same active storm track that will heighten the flooding risk across Italy and the Balkans this winter will also bring rounds of adverse weather to Eastern Europe.
Any storm that crosses the Balkans and swings northward into central Ukraine and areas north will likely encounter an abundance of cold air already in place. The clash of moisture with brisk air will lead to frequent periods of rain and snow across much of the interior of Eastern Europe.
People skate in the snow at the ice rink set up outside the Ukrainian President's office in Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Even portions of the region that dodge the chilliest air will not be impervious to adverse winter weather. In this part of the world, with seasonably chilly air in place, some "nasty" ice storms can develop, Roys cautioned.
Several major ice events impacted portions of Ukraine last winter. In December 2020, after a period of freezing rain, the capital city of Kiev was turned into a large ice sheet. Icy conditions sent pedestrians sliding down sidewalks and vehicles skidding off roadways, leading to more than 500 car accidents, according to the Kyiv Post.
Unlike its stormy counterpart to the south, Northern Europe is not predicted to face unsettled weather this winter.
Windstorms are not expected to frequently sweep from west to east this season, which spells fewer impacts for portions of the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, Denmark, Norway and Sweden, Roys explained.
Due in part to a lack of frequent windstorms, prolonged stretches of drier weather are in store for eastern France, Germany, Sweden and Norway.
A drier winter may come as welcome news for some parts of the region that endured unprecedented flooding this summer. Back in July, catastrophic flooding left more than 180 people dead across Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.
Debris hangs on a damaged bridge over the Ahr river in Schuld, Germany, Friday, July 16, 2021. Two days before, the Ahr river went over the banks after strong rainfalls caused several deaths and hundreds of people missing. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)
Long periods of dry conditions may leave some residents worried about the potential for drought, but forecasters say there is good news on that front.
"This winter is not showing signs of a major drought in any part of Europe," Reppert said.
In addition, temperatures are not anticipated to be prone to any extreme variations for the first half of the winter. This could spell relief for residents across Northern Europe concerned about heating costs this winter.
However, Old Man Winter won't be content with staying in the shadows for the entire duration of the season. Later this winter, the opportunity for prolonged bouts of cold air will arrive across Northern Europe, especially across Ireland and the United Kingdom.
"Under a La Niña setup, typically the northern third to the northern half of Europe has an increased chance to encounter cold shots of air," Roys explained.
Youngsters slide downhill on sleds after a snowfall at the Woluwe park in Brussels, Monday, Feb. 8, 2021. Freezing temperatures and snow have swept across much of Europe. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
As the second half of the season approaches, the predominant wind direction will shift across northwestern Europe and become more easterly in nature. Since the core of cold air across the European continent is forecast to set up over the east, an easterly wind will be able to transport that chilly air farther to the west.
Temperatures during the second half of winter will dip to near-normal and below-normal levels over northwestern Europe, according to Roys.
These cold pushes of air from the east can lead to significant spikes in heating demands for several days to even a week at a time across northwestern Europe. If energy production and demand issues are still in flux by January or February, these cold snaps may place a significant strain on residents' wallets.
On top of chilly winds out of the east, the La Niña phase will increase the opportunity for snow across the United Kingdom and Ireland as well as areas from France to Poland, especially later in the season.
"Snow is not necessarily going to come from any individual big storm, but there will be frequent batches of light to moderate snow that can produce a bit of accumulation," Roys said.
Last winter, parts of the United Kingdom experienced their snowiest times during the months of January and February -- and forecasters say that could be the case again this winter.
On one hand, a cold, potentially snowy second half of winter may sound wonderful to residents wishing to explore magical, winter wonderland scenes, but, on the other hand, the conditions may lead to financial concerns as heating bills climb.
Compared to 2020, Europeans have experienced a 600 percent increase in gas prices so far in 2021. A limited supply and an increasing demand for gas as economies start to recover from the worst of the coronavirus pandemic have put pressure on the natural resource.
In addition, the overall weather pattern during the last several months has not done Europe any favors in its push toward greener energy sources, especially across the United Kingdom. In 2020, wind energy accounted for 25 percent of the energy produced in the United Kingdom. Following a rather quiet summer weather-wise and a calm start to fall, the amount of wind energy produced in the U.K. cratered, leaving millions with skyrocketing energy bills.
As international travel restrictions continue to be pared down across many nations, ski resorts across Europe are gearing up for the season. Some popular ski resorts have already begun to open up their slopes as autumn snowfall blankets the highest peaks.
New to the annual Europe winter forecast this year, AccuWeather's meteorologists have produced a ski forecast to pinpoint mountain ranges that can get a boost from Mother Nature this winter, as well as those that may miss out on abundant snow.
Along with the higher frequency of stormy weather in the forecast for Spain and southern France, the Pyrenees Mountains that border the two countries will receive a plethora of natural snow this winter. This predicted abundance of natural snow means that forecasters expect excellent skiing conditions this winter for visitors to ski resorts in the mountain range.
The Alps are also expected to experience excellent skiing conditions this winter. Fresh powder on the slopes will be a common occurrence as waves of moisture push into the area from the Mediterranean Sea.
"While the French, Italian and southern Austrian Alps have the greatest chance to get fresh snow often this winter, a higher risk for avalanches will develop across these areas later in the winter and into early spring," Roys cautioned.
Roys added that the Pyrenees are also included in this late-season avalanche risk.
The Carpathian Mountains, which stretch from the center of the continent and well into the east, are forecast to encounter good skiing conditions this winter. Similarly, good conditions will be in place across Scotland as well.
France's Nils Allegre speeds down the course during the men's super-G, at the alpine ski World Championships in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Gabriele Facciotti)
However, there are some areas that may hurt for natural snow at times this winter.
The southern portion of the Scandinavian Mountains will face prolonged periods of dry weather. Resorts in the Scandes may need to rely heavily on snow machines in order to build and maintain a meaningful base.
Almost on the opposite end of the continent, the central and southern Apennines will also struggle to find any help from Mother Nature in terms of natural snow.
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