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Drought of 1959

Northern Europe

Drought Event Summary

The 1959 drought was a summer drought that extended from Britain to Russia and across most of central and Northern Europe. According to Marsh and Cole, it was characterized by a series of "sever, short duration summer droughts." Analysis of tree ring width samples of oak from Central Germany identified the summer of 1959 (along with 1934 and 1996) among the driest in the period AD 996–2005 (Büntgen et al., 2010). March (2004) describes it in a similar manner, stating that the 1959 event was only exceeded by the events of 1976 and 2003 in Great Britain.

The drought event eventually broke in late fall and winter, with recovery beginning in the west and moving east.

Drought Statistics

Approx. duration: 5/1959-2/1960

Date of SPI-6 min: 17/10/1959

Affected regions: Northern Europe

Climatological Drought

Precipitation deficits in 1959 began in late spring, centered in Great Britain and in south eastern Europe (Greece and Turkey). Early drought in the UK eventually pushed east into central and northern Europe, creating two severe peaks in late July and again in mid-October.

Conditions returned to normal during the winter of 1959, beginning in western Europe and moving east.

Progression of climatological (SPI-6) drought. Climatological drought is defined by the SPI-6, which sums precipitation over the previous 6 months and transforms this value to the standard normal distribution. Negative SPI values (shown in red) represent dry conditions, measured in standard deviations from typical conditions. Percent area in drought is calculated by summing all cells less than the 20th percentile (SPI < -0.84).


Drought Impacts

Analysis of tree ring width samples of oak from Central Germany identified the summer of 1959 (with 1934 and 1996) among the driest in the period AD 996–2005 (Büntgen et al., 2010). In consequence of the dry and hot summer Western Germany suffered from severe water supply shortages in late 1959. Particularly affected were the industrial and (emerging) agglomeration areas, taken into account that water demands were rapidly rising at that time (time of the “Wirtschaftswunder”). Due to extreme low stream flows and depleted reservoirs used for public supply (e.g., in the Harz Mountains) many people were affected by hosepipe bans and water rationing (SPIEGEL, Nov 1959). Also in England and Wales ten million consumers were affected by hosepipe bans and drought orders because of extreme low flows and a serious depletion of reservoirs (Marsh et al., 2007), while the impact on groundwater had been rather limited (Cole & Marsh, 2006). Other reported impacts of the 1959 drought in Northern/Central Europe are: the occurrence of forest fires in Norway (Direktoratet for samfunnssikkerhet og beredskap etter oppdrag fra Justis- og politidepartementet, 2008) and huge economic losses for the waterborne transportation sector in the Netherlands (RIZA, 2005).

Location of drought impact reports. Darker colors refer to more reported impacts in the EDII. Scroll over each country to see more detail.

Impact Detail Table

Drought Event Country Start Date End Date Impact Impact Category Impact Description NUTS 1 NUTS 2 NUTS 3 Reference
1959 Northern/Central Europe Deutschland 6/1959 6/1959 12.2 Increased number of wildfires On 22 June, several wildfires in heathlands and forests occur due to a long-term heat-wave. Niedersachsen;