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Earth Sense: Europes winter weather patterns stormier than ours
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The past two weeks have shown how different the weather can be in Europe, compared to the U.S.

Over here, summer brings storm systems from the ocean. Hurricanes and tropical storms produce severe winds and high waves, causing destruction on the oceanfront as well as inland. In western Europe, those conditions are better known during winter.

On Jan. 9, winter storm Elon blew across Britain, France and Germany with heavy rain and high winds. The next day, Felix followed with even stronger winds. The German National Weather Service issued a severe storm warning for the entire country when gusty winds up to 100 mph were reported at some locations.

These storms aren’t hurricanes. A hurricane is born over warm ocean waters, gaining strength as it travels from the vicinity of Western Africa across the Atlantic to the Caribbean, and on to North America. We call it a “warm-core storm” because it feeds on the energy supplied by moisture from the ocean.

The European storm type is termed “Orkan” in German. They are a “cold-core” type, starting as frontal systems sweeping across New England and traveling eastward into the Atlantic.

Normally, they lose strength or even dissolve once they reach Iceland. But when conditions are right, a counterclockwise bend in the upper-air flow can make them gain intensity.

Following a track from Greenland to Iceland to Scotland and the areas south of there, Elon arrived with a bang.

“Injuries, damages, railroad chaos” was the headline of an online German news service. Thousands of rail travelers found themselves stuck when major railroad lines had to be closed due to debris on the tracks. In Hamburg, two young girls suffered severe injuries when a tree fell on them in their schoolyard.

Without a break, Felix followed Jan. 10, prompting the weather service to warn people throughout the country to stay at home because the situation was “lebensgefährlich” (life-threatening).

After a winter storm in the U.S. Southeast, it remains cold, but conditions tend to be clear. Not so in western Europe. The storms move on toward the east, but wet air keeps flowing from the Atlantic.

The post-Felix forecast called for temperatures around freezing, putting chilly rain and snow on the table for the week following Jan.11. Traveling in Europe, normally easy due to excellent roads and railroads, has been a challenge this month.

Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor of physical science and director of sustainability at Brenau University. His column appears Sundays and at

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