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Temperature extremes in Europe

Indicator Specification Created 08 Apr 2005 Published 08 Apr 2005 Last modified 04 Sep 2015, 06:59 PM
Note: new version is available!
Indicator codes: CSI 012 , CLIM 001

More recent information can be found on indicator CSI 012 Global and European Temperature
which covers same issues and is more frequently updated. 
Update planned for November 2012.


Assessment versions

Published (reviewed and quality assured)
  • No published assessments


Justification for indicator selection

As seen by the public, climate change manifests itself most clearly through changes in the frequency of weather extremes and their impacts. Nearly all adaptation measures relate to changes in climate extremes. Extreme temperature events may lead to heat waves and intensive and long-lasting droughts, having, in turn, many impacts on natural ecosystems and society (e.g. agriculture, public health).
The time series for studying temperature extremes are based on daily data. More than 50-year of European time-series data allow detailed assessment of extreme events.

The heat wave of summer 2003

Much of Europe was affected by a heat wave during the summer of 2003 (June, July and August). It is estimated that this was the hottest summer since at least 1500 (Luterbacher et al., 2004). Seasonal temperatures were the highest on record in Germany, Switzerland, France and Spain (Figure 3). Average summer (June-August) temperatures were far above the long-term mean, by up to five standard deviations, implying that this was an extremely unlikely event under current climatic conditions (Schar and Jendritzky, 2004). Hot summers like 2003 may, however, become much more frequent during the second part of the 21st century (Beniston, 2007; Dankers and Hiederer, 2008).
The 2003 heat wave was associated with a particular air pressure field pattern over Europe, leading to an advection of hot air from the south which reinforced the strength and persistence of the heat waves. Nearly all radiation from the sun was converted to heat because of the soil and vegetation dryness. At many locations, day-time temperatures rose to more than 40 oC. In the European Alps, the average thickness loss of glaciers reached about 3 m water equivalent, nearly twice as much as during the previous record year of 1998 (WMO, 2004). Annual precipitation deficits up to 300 mm caused droughts in many areas which resulted in reduced agricultural production, more extensive forest fires (Portugal), and record low levels of many major rivers (e.g. Po, Rhine, Loire and Danube). In all the affected countries together, more than 70 000 additional deaths were related to the 2003 heat waves.

Scientific references

  • No rationale references available

Indicator definition

  • Observed changes in warm spells and frost days indices 1976-2006
  • Modelled number of tropical nights over Europe during summer (June-August) 1961-1990 and 2071-2100


Policy context and targets

Context description

In April 2009 the European Commission presented a White Paper on the framework for adaptation policies and measures to reduce the European Union's vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. The aim is to increase the resilience to climate change of health, property and the productive functions of land, inter alia by improving the management of water resources and ecosystems. More knowledge is needed on climate impact and vulnerability but a considerable amount of information and research already exists which can be shared better through a proposed Clearing House Mechanism. The White Paper stresses the need to mainstream adaptation into existing and new EU policies. A number of Member States have already taken action and several have prepared national adaptation plans. The EU is also developing actions to enhance and finance adaptation in developing countries as part of a new post-2012 global climate agreement expected in Copenhagen (Dec. 2009). For more information see:


No targets have been specified

Related policy documents

No related policy documents have been specified


Methodology for indicator calculation

Methodology for gap filling

Methodology references

No methodology references available.

Data specifications

EEA data references

  • No datasets have been specified here.

Data sources in latest figures


Methodology uncertainty

Data sets uncertainty

Rationale uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Further work

Short term work

Work specified here requires to be completed within 1 year from now.

Long term work

Work specified here will require more than 1 year (from now) to be completed.

General metadata

Responsibility and ownership

EEA Contact Info



No owners.


Indicator code
CSI 012
CLIM 001
Version id: 1
Primary theme: Climate change Climate change


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