FRANKFURT/LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - Europe's freakishly warm weather is likely to extend into the middle of March and may be evidence that human activity like burning fossil fuels is shifting the climate.
That's what scientists are saying after temperatures topped 20 deg C for the first time during the winter in Britain.
The comments, which are becoming increasingly frequent with each new spell of unusual weather, break with the convention that individual shifts in the temperature are almost impossible to link to a change in the climate.
"Almost certainly, man-made climate change has already made events like this week's more likely than if humans were not warming the planet with our fossil fuel emissions," said Professor James Screen, a climate scientist at the University of Exeter.
Forecasts over the last two days revised up temperature predictions for the next two weeks across northern Europe and now indicate above-normal readings through the end of that horizon.
This year's mild spell during what is usually the coldest month of the year prompted natural gas and electricity prices to tumble across the continent, and sparked wildfires in England and Italy.
Politicians and business leaders alike are expressing concern about damage to the economy that is unfolding now for a trend that many had thought would take decades or even centuries to unfold.
"Massive wildfires appear to be occurring more frequently as a result of climate change," said Munich Re board member Torsten Jeworrek.
The German reinsurance giant reported that global losses from natural catastrophes hit US$160 billion (S$216 billion) last year, some US$20 billion above inflation-adjusted averages in the previous three decades. The 117 weather-related events in Europe was the highest since records began in 1980.
Prof Screen said rising temperatures allowed a high pressure system to drift over Europe and form "blocking ridges" to more normal weather patterns.
This year, the ridge brought warm dry air from Africa and prevented rain-bearing Atlantic fronts from reaching land. Last year, a similar effect triggered "The Beast from the East" cold snap by allowing winds from Siberia to blow much further to the west than usual.
"The odds of seeing these unprecedented temperatures have been increased quite substantially by climate change," said Dr Peter Stott, a scientist who leads the climate monitoring and attribution team at Britain's Met Office. "What then is harder to be definitive about is the effect of climate change on the jet stream itself."
German meteorological office Deutscher Wetterdienst revised its four-week forecast on Friday morning (March 1) and now sees above-normal temperatures, combined with dryer conditions, across the country through to the end of March.
In Italy, Canadair firefighting planes on Wednesday morning were dumping water on forest fires raging over Tuscan hillsides after a prolonged dry spell. The fires prompted closure of the a highway linking central Italy to Austria, delaying road transport of goods.
A heatwave in Britain contributed to fires on Saddleworth Moor in the Pennine hills between Manchester and Leeds burning out of control onWednesday, with firefighters tackling blazes on crisp-dry moorlands typically covered with snow 30 years ago.
Dr Thomas Smith, assistant professor in environmental geography at the London School of Economics, said events like that may happen more often as the climate warms.
"These warm spells will become more likely with climate change, and so we should expect fire activity like we've seen this week to happen more frequently in future," he said.
Powerful storms in the Mediterranean have been another consequence of the shifting weather patterns, with rising temperatures increasing the amount of energy and water in storms, according to according to Dr Daniele Spizzichino, senior climatologist at the Italian Institute for Environmental Protection and Research.
In Germany, warmer weather is drying up the Rhine River, reducing water levels at Kaub and raising the risk that barge traffic could face interruptions without more rain over the coming months.
Dr Dennis Meissner, hydrologist at Germany's Federal Institute of Hydrology said the dry February weather had lowered water levels in the Rhine and that water tables in the river's basin hadn't properly re-charged from last year's drought. These conditions may persist, he said.
"The current low water level and the previous year's not yet completely well-balanced precipitation deficit aren't the best conditions for the outlook for the waterway over the coming months," he said.