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CLIMATE

How heatwaves in Germany have led to thousands of deaths

Soaring summer temperatures led to thousands of heat-related deaths in Germany from 2018 to 2020, a study has revealed.

How heatwaves in Germany have led to thousands of deaths
The sun rises in Baden-Württemberg during a heatwave in the middle of June. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Thomas Warnack

For the first time since the start of the study period in 1992, an usually high number of heat-related deaths occurred on three years in a row, researchers from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the Federal Environmental Agency (Uba) and the German Weather Service (DWD) wrote on Friday in the medical newspaper Deutsches Ärzteblatt.

Between 2018 and 2020, almost 20,000 heat-related deaths were recorded – especially among elderly people – as the country experienced more ferocious and frequent summer heatwaves. 

The authors of the study said that, while heat was not often reported as a direct cause of death, sweltering temperatures can affect people’s health in a variety of ways. 

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“High outdoor temperatures affect the body in many ways and can, for example, put a great strain on the cardiovascular system,” they wrote. “In particular, heat can aggravate existing conditions such as respiratory problems.” 

The effect on the population’s health was particularly strong four years ago when German experienced its second-hottest summer on record. 

“In particular, 2018, with an estimated number of about 8,700 heat-related deaths, is of a similar magnitude to the historical heatwave years of 1994 and 2003 (about 10,000 deaths each),” the researchers explained. 

In 2018, Germany experienced an unusually long heatwave as well as conspicuously high weekly average temperatures over summer. In 2019, the researchers estimate that 6,900 heat-related deaths occurred, which dropped to 3,700 in 2020. For 2021, no significantly increased heat-related mortality was found. 

Climate change

Average temperatures in Germany were 3C warmer than usual this June – reflecting a trend towards extreme summer heat in recent years.

And it’s not just summer that’s getting hotter: both January and February were unusually mild this year, with average temperatures 3.5C and 4.1C higher respectively. For the year as a whole, experts estimate that the weather will be 2.4C hotter on average.

Climate experts are concerned that these high temperatures are becoming the new normal in Germany, with severe heat arriving more frequently and lasting for longer spells. 

READ ALSO: Weather: Germany sees extreme heat and storms

dry earth heatwave Dresden

Dry, cracked earth on the bank of the Elbe River in Dresden. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Robert Michael

However, since 1992, the influence of these high temperatures on mortality has decreased slightly overall, the study says. This could be due to the fact that people have started to adapt to the hotter summers.

“Individual behavioural changes through greater awareness, such as wearing airy clothing, drinking enough fluids or seeking shaded or air-conditioned rooms, are conceivable,” the authors wrote. 

Nevertheless, the years 2018 to 2020 show that “heat events continue to be a serious threat to the health of people in Germany”. The researchers say the handling of heat periods in Germany must be significantly improved and vulnerable population groups must be adequately protected.

Since heat is rarely recorded as a direct cause of death, the study authors used statistical methods for their analysis.

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WEATHER

Will Germany see more snow this winter?

Over the weekend, large parts of Germany saw early snowfall, but will it continue throughout the winter?

Will Germany see more snow this winter?

Many parts of Germany experienced an early white Christmas over the weekend, as snow fell from Berlin to the Baltic Sea. Hesse also saw at least the first swirl of snowflakes and there was light snow in the Siegerland and the Hochsauerland districts of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Some areas of the country were hit particularly hard by the snow – a few centimetres of snow fell in Kassel, while large parts of Bavaria experienced heavy snowfall on Saturday.

READ ALSO: Surviving winter: 8 tips for enjoying the cold like a true German

There were also numerous accidents on icy roads in North Rhine-Westphalia, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Schleswig-Holstein and Bavaria. 

Will there be more snowfall this week?

Snowfall is expected at the beginning of the week in some areas in Thuringia and Saxony, while further south, there is likely to be snowfall only at high altitudes – such as in the Bavarian Alps.

Snow lies on the beach in Zingst, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Georg Moritz

In the coming days, temperatures will rise again and the weather will become milder. According to the German Weather Service (DWD) temperatures will hover between 5C and 12C for most of the country, while only the northeast and east see maximum temperatures of 0C to 4C.

Will there be more snow this winter?

2022 has already broken weather records in Germany – the period from January to the end of October was the warmest since weather records began almost 140 years ago.

READ ALSO: ‘A glimpse into our climate future’: Germany logs warmest October on record

Various weather models have already simulated the coming winter in Europe and Germany and provide estimations on how much warmer the coming winter is likely to be than from the years 1961 to 1990.

The models created by NASA, DWD, and the Climate Forecast System all agree that trend of rising temperatures will probably continue over the winter. Between December and February, it’s expected that the mercury will be between 1C and 3C higher than it was between 1961 and 1990. 

Meteorologist Corinna Borau from wetter.com told the Frankfurter Rundschau that she thinks that it’s extremely unlikely that there will be further snowfall in December in Germany.

“If the month looks rather dry and too mild overall, then we can’t expect large amounts of snow” Borau said. 

According to Borau, January is unlikely to be a “snow bomb” either, though it will still “feel like winter” and snow is only expected to fall sporadically. In February, however, the chances of snowfall are higher than in previous months.

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