This story, first published Wednesday, was updated Thursday based on the April climate report for Europe from the Copernicus Climate Change Service.
A frigid April weather pattern deprived much of Europe of springtime and the cold, stormy weather has yet to fully retreat.
In the wake of a powerhouse storm that swept across northern Europe early this week, temperatures remain below average to start May, following siege after siege of winterlike weather in April.
The unusual chill brought the coldest average low temperature to the United Kingdom since 1922 and devastating frosts to France’s famed vineyards, while many European countries endured their coldest April in decades.
Averaged over all of Europe, it was the coldest April since 2003 according to the Copernicus Climate Change Service, the European Union’s climate-monitoring agency.
Historic April chill in the United Kingdom
In Britain, a beguiling weather pattern began with a balmy February before it became frigid in April. The strange weather featured prominently in photographs beamed around the world that showed Brits hoisting pints at picnic tables while shivering under snow showers. They were celebrating the reopening of pub gardens last month, with the easing of a third national coronavirus lockdown.
The UK Met Office documented 13 days of April air frost, or air temperatures at or below freezing, the most in the United Kingdom in at least 60 years.
“This number of air frosts is more typical for December, January or February, whereas the average number of air frosts in April is five days,” it wrote in a news release. “For gardeners and growers there were also a record high number of ground frosts with 22 days this month compared to an average of 12 days.”
The frost has taken a toll on flowers, fruits and vegetables. Gardeners haven’t known whether to laugh or cry. Spring bulbs bloomed early, then drooped as nighttime temps dipped. Deliveries from plant nurseries keep getting postponed.
“Considerable damage has been experienced in many gardens with flowers such as camellia and magnolias being scorched, and cherry, plum and pear blossom injured so that the fruit crop will be reduced,” said Guy Barter, chief horticulturalist at the Royal Horticultural Society, in a Met Office release.
Fauna were also fooled. Frogs spawned — but then the eggs were refrigerated. Small mammals came out of hibernation early, then had nothing to eat. Trout anglers wonder whether the great mayfly hatches this month will be delayed. Wildlife Trust officers say, however, that overall, British birds and bugs are well adapted to fickle springs, with some winners and some losers.
“This was a shockingly cold month, the coldest April in my lifetime, and remarkably fell after record breaking heat at the very end of March,” wrote Scott Duncan, a London-based meteorologist, in an email. “Many of my non-meteorologist friends pointed out how savage the wind chill was when dining in the shade.”
France endured similarly fickle spring weather. After record warmth at the end of March, it was then hit hard by freezing April weather, the coldest in more than 20 years.
Serge Zaka, an expert in climate and agriculture in France, tweeted that crops endured significant damage from multiple frosts following the record warmth, which had caused buds to open. In an interview with Reussir, an online portal for agriculture in France, Zaka said the cold snap was having impacts all over western Europe but were the worst in France because buds opened just before the frost.
The French government declared the frost damage a "calamité agricole” (agricultural disaster).
French vineyards devastated by April frost that followed unusually warm March
To start May, France’s average minimum temperature plunged to 2.6 degrees Celsius (36.7 Fahrenheit), a level reached only once before in the past 40 years, Météo-France reported. Charleville-Mezieres, a community in northern France near the border with Belgium, saw four straight days of frost, the most consecutive days on record so late in the season.
Zaka tweeted that Beauvais, a city 50 miles north of Paris, posted record-low monthly temperatures in both April and May following the historic warmth in February and March.
Germany’s coldest April in 40 years
The chill also oozed eastward over Germany, which saw its coldest April in 40 years, according to the World Meteorological Organization.
Deutscher Wetterdienst, Germany’s meteorological agency, wrote that temperatures were 2.3 degrees Celsius (4.1 Fahrenheit) below average and that it was the second-frostiest April on record, trailing only 1929. The month brought both snow flurries and hail, with some days feeling like a fast-forward through all the year’s seasons. In parts of the country, Easter delivered a white new sprinkling to confused spring blooms.
The chilly April in Germany followed a particularly erratic spell of weather. In February, snowstorms and frozen rivers melted away in a balmy, if short-lived, patch of sunshine as temperatures leaped a record 42 degrees Celsius (75.6 Fahrenheit) in the space of a week. Soon, though, came a return to what has felt like a never-ending winter, made bleaker by interminable coronavirus lockdowns and restrictions.
Much of Europe faced the freeze
Many other European nations experienced abnormally cool April weather:
- It was Austria’s coldest April in 20 years, according to the World Meteorological Organization.
- Denmark’s average April temperature was 1.6 degrees Celsius (2.9 Fahrenheit) below normal.
- Maximiliano Herrera, an expert on world weather extremes, tweeted that Hungary had its coldest April since 1997, Luxembourg its coldest since 1989 and both Belgium and the Netherlands their coldest since 1986, while temperatures were also below average in Latvia and Estonia.
The planet is still warming
While it is tempting to question the reality of climate change in the face of such unusually cold April conditions, experts are quick to point out that the chill in Europe was an exception during the month, rather than rule.
— Scott Duncan (@ScottDuncanWX) May 4, 2021
Brrrrr... Frigid for some but we were a cold blob on a warm planet. Europe hogged the cold in April 2021, making it one of the chilliest Aprils in decades.
But this is not the situation everywhere. This is where it is good to know the difference between weather and climate. pic.twitter.com/TcmTCuroyL
To the assertion that the cold in Europe somehow contradicts global warming, Zaka replied in a tweet: “Ridicule!,” French for “ridiculous.”
NOAA unveils new U.S. climate ‘normals’ that are warmer than ever
The cold over Europe was related to the phase of a weather pattern known as the North Atlantic Oscillation, which dipped into record negative territory for April, according to the World Climate Service Twitter account. The pattern featured a zone of high pressure over Greenland that forced the jet stream, which divides cold air and warm air, to dip south over Europe.
Chilly weather may linger, except in southern Europe
Five days into May and it’s still freezing in many parts of Europe. “Wintry weather is continuing to affect parts of the north,” the UK Met Office tweeted Wednesday, noting that “slushy snow” was possible in the hills of Scotland.
In Germany, May started with storm warnings and advisories to stay inside as gusts reach 80 miles per hour, with authorities expecting downed trees and travel disruptions. “It is one of the most violent May storms in years,” meteorologist Dominik Jung told German newspaper Merkur on Tuesday.
Judah Cohen, a long-range forecasting specialist at Atmospheric and Environmental Research, tweeted that the evolving weather pattern “will keep the cool temperatures rolling” in western Europe into the second half of May.
For southern Europe, including much of France and the Mediterranean, Météo-France has more encouraging news for those awaiting a thaw. It is predicting warmer-than-normal temperatures for May through July. On Monday, Greece saw its hottest day on record so early in the year, soaring to a scorching 39.1 degrees Celsius (102.4 Fahrenheit) at a weather station in Crete, Herrera tweeted. It was also the toastiest weather so early anywhere in Europe.
Booth reported from London and Morris from Berlin.