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European edition, Saturday, April 28, 2007

No, you didn’t forget to flip the calendar forward: It really is only April.

And while the gym mirror might indicate it’s still a wee bit early for some to don a bathing suit, the barometer measures a whole different reflection.

It’s hot. Summer’s here.

Enjoy it while you can, experts warn, because Europe could pay the price for the unseasonable, clothes-shedding weather so early in the season.

France, Belgium, Italy, England, Germany and the Netherlands, for example, are experiencing some of the warmest and driest seasons.

“Central Europe is experiencing one of the driest Aprils on record, [and] the outlook for the remainder of the summer is for conditions warmerand drier than normal, but that doesn’t account for precipitation occurring because of thunderstorms,” said Harold Strauss, a resident climatologist with the 21st Operational Weather Squadron based in Sembach, Germany.

In Italy, officials warned consumers to expect price increases for fresh fruits and vegetables because of historically low water levels and drought conditions, particularly in the fertile north.

The Po Valley, in northern Italy, is experiencing a “severe drought,” Strauss said.

Italian government officials are bracing for a hotter-than-usual summer that could be marked by rolling power outages, water restrictions and increases in the cost of goods and services, according to several Italian news accounts.

The winter was much drier than usual. It snowed less in the Alps, thus limiting the spring runoff that provides a source of water.

Italy enacted rolling power outages in 2003, when the last drought hit the Mediterranean nation, and soaring temperatures taxed the nation’s power grids.

U.S. military bases in southern Italy, which has seen rainfall over the past few days, have not enacted any kind of water restrictions or noted any problems with availability of water, but officials continue to monitor situations, base officials said.

Spain recently lifted its drought warning, and Naval Station Rota has seen its wettest winter in at least five years, base spokesman Lt. Mike Morley said. However, restrictions limiting lawn watering to evening and night hours remain in place, he said.

Ana Gato, 20, said she couldn’t be happier with the warmer temperatures in Naples, Italy.

“As soon as it got warm, I broke out the flip-flops and my summer clothes,” said the Miami native, who was depressed last winter because of colder temperatures than she’s used to. “I’ve already been to the beach. The water was a bit cold, but the sand gets nice and warm. I love this and can’t wait for it to get hotter.”

While there have been some reports of drought-like conditions in Germany, Army officials there say they have not been notified by German authorities about any possible water restrictions.

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