The weather in Ukraine this summer is forecast to be hotter than normal, according to meteorologists.
If so, that could escalate the fighting as dry ground and clear skies enable tanks and aircraft to operate more freely than they could during winter snow and spring mud.
“The theme of the summer overall is going to be hot and dry,” Tyler Roys, senior meteorologist and lead European forecaster for U.S. weather site Accuweather, told me.
Roys sees the summer of 2022 as starting off cool for Ukraine, “with temperatures near to below normal for much of the country. Precipitation wise, it will be near normal, with any areas that could see above normal precipitation being along the Belorussian border.”
However, temperatures will rise further into summer. “Once we move into July, temperatures will moderate to above normal and they are expected to remain above normal through August,” Roys said.
“As the temperature increases, the chances for precipitation will become fewer through early August. It is likely that chances for precipitation will increase for the middle and of August.”
Ukraine’s weather will be affected by what is shaping to be a third straight year of the La Nina global weather pattern, which has contributed to warmer temperatures in Europe. “If this was to occur, it would only be the third ‘triple-dip’ La Nina,” said Roys. “There have only been two other triple-dip La Nina’s in recorded history: 1973 to 1975 and 1998 to 2000.”
In the summer of 2021 – which was also a La Nina year – daytime temperatures in Ukraine were mostly in the 80s between June and August, and sometimes soared into the 90s.
Historically, summer has been the season when armies tended to fight in Eastern Europe, from Napoleon’s foot soldiers to Hitler’s panzers. Winter snow and spring rain – which turn the ground into the muddy morass of the infamous rasputitsa – are over, and armies can maneuver over dry ground.
One reason Russia’s invasion of Ukraine quickly bogged down was because the offensive was launched in February. Through the following winter and spring, muddy ground confined armored vehicles to Ukraine’s somewhat sparse network of paved roads, which channeled Russian attacks to narrow routes vulnerable to ambush. Even worse, supply vehicles – the humble and vulnerable trucks that sustain modern armies – lacked even the offroad maneuverability enjoyed by tracked vehicles. Trapped in long columns on exposed highways, they became sitting ducks for Ukrainian artillery and drones strikes.
Of course, mud also hampered Ukrainian vehicles. But Ukrainian forces were on the defense, and relied less on armored vehicles than on agile foot soldiers armed with man-portable anti-tank missiles. As in World War II, mud has favored the defender.
But now, dry ground will allow Russian combat vehicles and supply trucks to move offroad, increasing their tactical mobility and decreasing their vulnerability. Ukrainian vehicles will also enjoy more mobility. But as the weaker side fighting in the open spaces of southern Ukraine, where Russia has now concentrated its offensive efforts, Ukrainian troops will have to cover more potential attack routes over newly traversable ground. They can’t rely as much on poor terrain to channel attacks and cover their flanks.
“If it is nice and sunny for prolonged periods, then both sides can achieve surprise, by attacking in unexpected locations, and by building their own resupply roads,” Alex Vershinin, a retired U.S. Army colonel and expert on Russian military logistics, told me. “These pushes will have to be for short distances, because dirt roads are slower and increase wear and tear on the logistic vehicles, but they can be used to outflank otherwise impassible position.”
One drawback of warmer weather is that it deprives Russia of an excuse for failure, just as the Germans blamed the blizzards of 1941 for their failure to take Moscow, rather than their own arrogance and sloppy planning. If Russia can’t defeat Ukraine this summer, it won’t be because of the weather.
As for the soldiers fighting this war, hot temperatures will increase water consumption in a region already suffering from drought. But Vershinin points to an even more terrible consequence of waging war during an extra-hot summer. “Dry weather will cause grass and forests to catch on fire. In some cases. it will be done deliberately to clear out defenders, or to deny an avenue of approach to an attacker.”
But there will also be explosions from bombs and shells. Thousands of vehicles will be moving through parched woods and grasslands. Wildfires will inevitably erupt, some in areas where wounded soldiers or trapped civilians are unable to reach safety.
Summer 2022 in Ukraine is likely be hot, dry – and terrible.