Wildfires: Sweden has not been this hot for over a century


A helicopter is seen trying to extinguish one of Sweden’s many wildfires. Photo credit: Mats Andersson / TT.

By Anders Lorenzen

The Arctic Circle has been experiencing above normal temperatures in many parts this summer, including Sweden resulting in raging wildfires. The Scandinavian state is the latest European country to be impacted by an unusually hot summer across the northern hemisphere.

And last week saw the highest temperature for over a century, and over 50 wildfires burning at the time of writing.

Villages have had to be evacuated and help has been called from the country’s Norwegian neighbours and even as far afield as Italy, who deployed two planes to fight the blazes.

As always with extreme weather events, questions are being asked if it can be linked to climate change. The current scientific consensus though is that at the moment no particular extreme weather event can be linked to climate change but the frequency and the severity can.

Sweden has been hailed as one of the world’s most progressive countries when it comes to fighting climate change and last year signed an ambitious climate act into law.

Speaking to The New York Times, Jonas Olsson, a hydrologist at the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute said: “It has been a very strange year. Surely, it’s an unusual situation. It is in line with what we would expect from a global warming perspective that we would see these extremes.” Olson was referring to quick changeover from thick snow in winter to a sudden warming in May. Which meant that the countries essentially skipped spring. This is not only has been a trend in Sweden but across Scandinavia.

Sweden while not very populous is a very large country stretching a couple of thousand kilometres from north to south.

Fortunately, no-one has yet been killed by either the heatwaves or the drought, the latter which began in May. But the economic impact has been immense and has hit the agricultural sector especially hard.

According to the Swedish news agency TT the fires have already inflicted woodland damage of almost $70 million. And some farmers have had to slaughter livestock as the drought had stunned the growth of silage needed to feed them.

Meanwhile, the operation of battling the blazes goes on but some of the fires have proved impossible to put out. On Friday the Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) warned that four of the fires were too big to put out.

The long-term weather forecast doesn’t leave for much relief as it is predicted that the drought could last into August. The head of the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agencies said the worst might still be to come: “We are in the most serious and difficult situation Swedish fire and rescue services have ever been in. This could escalate”. While the Swedish Prime Minister, Stefan Löfven said the situation is extreme and Sweden has received emergency EU help.

Across large parts of Scandinavia, summer pleasures such as campfires and BBQs have been banned as Sweden tries to contain the wildfires which have resulted from the hottest temperatures for over a century.

This is only likely to re-energise the climate change debate in a country desperately concerned by the risks of a warming world.

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