Temperature Trauma

If you like statistics and weather reports, this article is for you, and it proves that 'Northern Europe' doesn't have a monopoly on wintry weather. Wrap up well!
Wilko Karmelk, Kz. Karelstraat 19, 4521 AE Bieryliet, Netherlands
Chamaerops No. 13, published online 23-08-2002

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Last week I was looking through some old newspapers and came across a series of articles, which rather took me by surprise. They were to do with the minimum temperatures recorded in Europe during the severe winter of 1985.

We have been lucky with the last few winters, and this current one is no exception. This article should prove a timely reminder of just how cold it can get, lest we should become too complacent.

5.1.85 An Arctic front reaches the Mediterranean. In Rome the minimum is 0°C and in the French city of Lyon, the temperature drops to -14°.

6.1.85 The cold is penetrating deeper into Europe. Rome records -2°, Milan -12° and Bolzano -14°. In Spain, Barcelona shares the cold with -2°. In Bordeaux the temperature goes down to -10° and Lyon equals a record low of -18°. Nice and Marseille register -2° and -7° respectively.

7.1.85 Extremely cold in Poland with temperatures down to -27°. Munich airport reports -27.9° and also in Germany, Straubing has -3l.7°. Very cold in Spain too. Barcelona has -5° and Madrid -7°. Even in Valencia it freezes, with -2°.

8.1.85 A historic morning for places all over Europe. Straubing in Germany has a record low of -34°; Breslau in Poland -30° and Vienna, Austria has a minimum of -23°. The previous record was -5.4°. In Nice on the French Cote d'Azur the snow lays 31cm thick, a new record.

9. 1 .85 Very cold in France now, Nice wakes up to -7° and Marseilles to -9°. In Bordeaux it goes down to -15° equalling the previous minimum low. In Spain this is the coldest day. During the night Madrid records -9° and Barcelona -6°. ^The name 'Costa Blanca' takes on a new meaning.

10.1.85 On this day temperatures in Florence go down to -14°, a new record low for this city. The previous record was -10.6°.

11.1.85 In Florence the record low of the day before is broken by an almost unbelievable -21°. Rome also breaks its own record with -8°.

12.1.85 Still very cold in Florence with -20°. Even in Tunisia it freezes with - 1° - another record.

13.1.85 Romania registers -26°, but in the rest of Europe the cold slowly eases.

14.1.85 Only in France there is a new cold spell, and again low temperatures are recorded: Paris -12°, Bordeaux °11°.

15.1.85 On this day Bordeaux records -15° and Biarritz on the south of France's Atlantic coast registers -12°.

16.1.85 The temperatures in Bordeaux dive to the historic all-time low of -16°^. Barcelona is not far behind with its own all-time low of -7°. Even in Morocco it freezes to -2°. In Milan the snow falls to a depth of 62cm.

17.1.85 In Palma de Majorca a new record: -6°.

After this the cold slowly begins to ease and it's clear that Europe, and not just northern Europe, has been through one its most severe cold spells in modern times.

A lot of facts and figures there but very interesting, especially if you look at the temperatures for Florence. When I was there in 1988 the gardeners in the Jiardino Botanico told me that they had had -19°, but I didn't believe this and thought they meant -9° or -10° (like 9/10°, my Italian not being too good!). I'm still very sceptical about these figures even though they came from the Meteorological Institute.

There are not so many palms in Florence but there is still the Jubaea, the Trachycarpus takil hybrid, Chamaerops humus, the Nannorrhops ritchiana, and Phoenix sylvestris in the famous Beccari garden. In town there are two Phoenix canariensis (one rather large) and many Trachycarpus. In the Botanic Garden itself there is still a huge Washingtonia and several smaller Phoenix species.

There was apparently a snow layer of 18cm. So I assume that the soil itself had not frozen. But even so, how could a Phoenix canariensis survive such temperatures? And it was not just one night, but several. It would be a great step forward if plants from seed from the surviving palms of Florence proved to be more cold-hardy than usual. If so, avenues of Phoenix canariensis might be possible in places usually considered too cold for palms.

With the mild winters we have had over the last two or three years we can be blinded to the possible dangers. One of these winters, those extremes of temperature may well be repeated, and when it happens, let's be ready!

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