Drought in Central and Eastern Europe triggers unusual fires

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Drought in Central and Eastern Europe triggers unusual forest fires in Germany, Ukraine, Moldova and Slovakia.

Date & Time
28 November 2011 00:00 UTC
Meteosat-9, SMOS
Surface Soil Moisture

More information and detailed analysis of the feature can be found in the In Depth section.


In Depth

by Kornel Kollath (Hungarian Meteorological Service), Lucia Uhrinova, Jozef Csaplar (SHMU, Slovakia), Jochen Kerkmann (EUMETSAT) and Alex Kryvobok (UHMI, Ukraine)

Jump to images

During October and November 2011, the lack of rain over much of Europe triggered the worst drought in decades for this time of year, dropping river levels to record lows and creating concern in parts of central and eastern Europe.

Power supply reservoirs were running low in Serbia, drinking water shortages hit Bosnia, and the 2012 crop production is in jeopardy in Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and the Ukraine (farmers say that the Ukraine, the major Black Sea grain producer, could lose up to 30 percent of its winter grain). Germany, The Netherlands, Slovakia and the Czech Republic experienced the driest November since records began (see Precipitation anomaly November 2011, Germany, PNG, 163 KB, source: DWD).

According to the Washington Post, in November 2011 the "waters of the Danube river were so low, that dozens of cargo ships were stuck, stranded in ghostly fog or wedged into sand banks on what is normally one of eastern Europe's busiest transport routes.". Also the water levels of the river Rhine were well below average making it difficult for ships and barges to move.

Curiously, the fall in water level of the river Rhine also uncovered a large unexploded World War II bomb near Koblenz and 45,000 residents had to be evacuated whilst the bomb was defused, which caused huge disruption right across the city of Koblenz.

The extreme dry weather in Central and Eastern Europe not only affected river levels and agriculture, but also triggered unusual (forest) fires in several countries. On 20 November 2011, a forest fire started in Upper Bavaria on the south side of the Schwarzberg mountain, near Lenggries.

On 28 November 2011, several fires broke out in the Ukraine, Moldova and Slovakia, when a cold front with strong winds and no precipitation particularly enhanced the risk of fire (see Fire Danger Forecast, 29 November, GIF, 286 KB, source: JRC). Any existing fire (which might originally have been man-made) quickly fanned out by gusty winds and became uncontrolled.


Meteosat-9 HRV Cloud RGB Product

Showing a cold front over the Ukraine with strong north-westerly winds

Met-9, 28 November 2011, 11:45 UTC
RGB Composite HRV, HRV, IR10.8
with ECMWF Mean Sea Level Pressure field and Synops
Full Resolution (PNG, 814 KB)


The 'hot-spots' of the fires can be observed in Meteosat-9 satellite images, e.g. in the Night Microphysics RGB products shown below. Most of the fires, which appear as purple spots in the RGB product, occurred in the western part of the Ukraine where 34 fires were detected, but there was also a large wildfire in central Slovakia.

This high number of fire events (which can be seen on MSG images) is very unusual in this part of Europe in autumn. As regards the fire 'hot-spot' in Slovakia, the forest fire broke out near the village of Vysna Boca in the Starobocka valley of the mountain region called Low Tatras.

The fire started on 28 November 2011, expanded to an area of 140 ha with a circumference of approximately 8 km. It was localised by fire fighters in the afternoon of 1 December 2011. The forest fire hit an area that was very difficult to reach because of the steep slopes. Hundreds of helicopter flights carrying water bags were required to control and extinguish it.

Meteosat-9 Night Microphysics RGB Product

the western part of the Ukraine is already behind the cold front.

Met-9, 28 November 2011, 14:45 UTC
RGB Composite IR12.0–IR10.8, IR10.8–IR3.9, IR10.8
with ECMWF Mean Sea Level Pressure field and Synops
Full Resolution (PNG, 817 KB)


Meteosat-9 Night Microphysics RGB Product (zoom)

Fires (hot spots) appear as purple dots

Met-9, 28 November 2011, 14:30 UTC
RGB Composite IR12.0–IR10.8, IR10.8–IR3.9, IR10.8
Full Resolution (PNG, 407 KB)
Interpretation (PNG, 485 KB)
Larger Area (14:45 UTC, PNG, 842 KB)
Animation (13:15–23:45 UTC, AVI, 4 MB)
Animation (zoom) (13:15–23:45 UTC, AVI, 2 MB)
Note also the stratus shield in the eastern part of the Carpathian Basin, which spreads to
the west, and the high level wave clouds on the lee side of the Southern Carpathians.

See also:

Animation Met-9 IR3.9 channel (14:45–18:45 UTC, MPG, 2 MB)
Long-lasting dry period over large parts of Europe in spring 2011
Fire-induced convection over the summer 2010 Russian wildfires (4 August 2010)


Meteosat-9 Night Microphysics RGB Product

One of the biggest hot-spots appeared on the border of Moldova and Ukraine. It has a pronounced greenish ring which also indicates the intensity of the fire.

Met-9, 28 November 2011, 15:45 UTC
RGB Composite IR12.0–IR10.8, IR10.8–IR3.9, IR10.8
Full Resolution (PNG, 208 KB)


Additional Info: SMOS maps Europe's dry autumn soils

According to the European Space Agency (ESA), dry soil resulting from Europe's exceptionally warm and dry autumn 2011 has been monitored by ESA's SMOS (Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity) mission.

The following animation showing the comparison between soil moisture in November 2010 and November 2011 (GIF, 506 KB, source: ESA). In Germany, The Netherlands, Austria, Czech Republic and all eastern European countries, November 2011 was much drier than November 2010. Only in most western Europe (Ireland, south-west England, Portugal, Spain) 2011 was more wet than 2010.

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