|Thousands of people walk enjoy a frozen River Aussenalster, Hamburg [GALLO/GETTY]
It has been a long, harsh winter across Europe. The freezing weather is thought to have claimed the lives of at least 650 people, from France in the west, to Poland in the east. Many, but by no means all, were homeless.
As March and the start of spring approaches, many people are now looking forward to the return of warmer weather. Based on current forecasts, they are unlikely to be disappointed.
Signs of spring are already appearing: in the United Kingdom, for example, Thursday 23 February was the warmest February day since 1998 with temperatures reaching almost 19 degrees Celsius in Coleshill, Warwickshire.
Across Europe, temperatures are likely to be on the increase with parts of central Europe and the Balkans seeing temperatures rising into ‘double figures’. Split in Croatia is predicted to reach 17 Celsius by Thursday.
Whilst rising temperatures are to be welcomed, they are likely to cause their own problems. Much of Eastern Europe is still covered by snow, several metres deep in the worst affected areas.
A rapid thaw is likely to cause significant flooding problems as one centimetre of melting snow results in one millimetre of water. It is possible that, in the fastest-warming areas, there could be the equivalent of one month’s winter rainfall in just a day or two.
Once the immediate thawing risk is over, the next hazard will be river flooding. A few of Europe’s rivers, such as Germany’s Oder, are at elevated levels.
In anticipation of such an event, authorities in Bulgaria have carried out an inspection of more than 500 dams throughout the country and have released water from some dams and reservoirs in anticipation of the Danube’s rising levels.
A rapid thaw may also cause considerable problems with supply pipes of both water and gas.
The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction has already warned that its European Flood Alert System could be put to its greatest test since its creation 10 years ago.