Wet and dry — mean precipitation

So much of life — and people’s livelihoods — depends on rain falling at the right time and in the right amount. Too much or too little can be devastating. Precipitation is vital to natural and managed ecosystems and to water supply, energy production and of course farming. Low rainfall at the wrong time in the growing season can severely affect crops, groundwater recharge and soil quality. Decreases in rainfall could aggravate local or regional conflicts among the different water users (agriculture, energy production, industry, households and tourism).

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Wet and dry — heavy precipitation and river floods

Too much rain falling too fast can trigger floods and landslides. A tenth of Europe’s urban population is currently living in flood-risk zones (EEA, 2020: Healthy environment, healthy lives: how the environment influences health and well-being in Europe). Floods can be deadly and costly, destroying buildings, infrastructure (transport, energy, communication) and livelihoods for all in their path. Between 1980 and 2017, floods have taken some 4,300 lives and cost Europe’s economy more than €170 billion, representing nearly a third of the total damage from natural hazards (EEA, 2020: Economic losses from climate-related extremes in Europe). Whether a heavy precipitation event triggers a dangerous flood is also influenced by non-climatic factors, such as land use, changes to river basins and natural water flow characteristics (dams, changes of river beds, sealing surfaces) and urban planning.

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Wet and dry — aridity

As average temperatures rise and rainfall patterns change, the stereotypical ‘arid’ regions of Europe may need a rethink. Increasing aridity is an important hazard for many ecosystems and economic sectors, including water management, agriculture, forestry and tourism. Unlike drought, aridity describes the long-term average dryness of a region, which leads to limited or low water content in the soil. Aridity can lead to soil erosion, salinisation and other forms of land degradation; it can also set off or exacerbate water-related conflicts in affected regions.

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Wet and dry — drought

Droughts can last from weeks to several years. They can affect all regions in Europe, but the south is especially vulnerable because of the generally drier conditions in the baseline climate.

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Wet and dry — fire weather

Most wildfires in Europe are started by human activities but climatic conditions determine their intensity and impact. Soaring temperatures, tinder-dry forests and gusting winds are trademark fire weather conditions. Raging wildfires and choking smoke are a growing threat to human lives, property and energy infrastructure in Europe. They can also affect water quality, threaten biodiversity, release large amounts of greenhouse gases, cause soil erosion and spoil the landscape. Yet wildfires can also do some good, reducing insect populations and the amount of fuel available for future fires, which sometimes helps to restore balance to fragile forest ecosystems adapted to wildfires.

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