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CR 31:59-74 (2006)  -  doi:10.3354/cr031059

Analysis of frequency and intensity of European winter storm events from a multi-model perspective, at synoptic and regional scales

Gregor C. Leckebusch1,*, Brigitte Koffi2, Uwe Ulbrich1, Joaquim G. Pinto3, Thomas Spangehl1, Stefan Zacharias3

1Institute for Meteorology, Freie Universität Berlin, Carl-Heinrich-Becker-Weg 6–10, 12165 Berlin, Germany
2Department of Geosciences, University of Fribourg, Chemin du Musee 4, C1700 Fribourg, Switzerland
3Institute for Geophysics and Meteorology, University of Cologne, Kerpener Str. 13, 50937 Köln, Germany

ABSTRACT: This study focuses on the analysis of winter (October-November-December-January-February-March; ONDJFM) storm events and their changes due to increased anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations over Europe. In order to assess uncertainties that are due to model formulation, 4 regional climate models (RCMs) with 5 high resolution experiments, and 4 global general circulation models (GCMs) are considered. Firstly, cyclone systems as synoptic scale processes in winter are investigated, as they are a principal cause of the occurrence of extreme, damage-causing wind speeds. This is achieved by use of an objective cyclone identification and tracking algorithm applied to GCMs. Secondly, changes in extreme near-surface wind speeds are analysed. Based on percentile thresholds, the studied extreme wind speed indices allow a consistent analysis over Europe that takes systematic deviations of the models into account. Relative changes in both intensity and frequency of extreme winds and their related uncertainties are assessed and related to changing patterns of extreme cyclones. A common feature of all investigated GCMs is a reduced track density over central Europe under climate change conditions, if all systems are considered. If only extreme (i.e. the strongest 5%) cyclones are taken into account, an increasing cyclone activity for western parts of central Europe is apparent; however, the climate change signal reveals a reduced spatial coherency when compared to all systems, which exposes partially contrary results. With respect to extreme wind speeds, significant positive changes in intensity and frequency are obtained over at least 3 and 20% of the European domain under study (35–72°N and 15°W–43°E), respectively. Location and extension of the affected areas (up to 60 and 50% of the domain for intensity and frequency, respectively), as well as levels of changes (up to +15 and +200% for intensity and frequency, respectively) are shown to be highly dependent on the driving GCM, whereas differences between RCMs when driven by the same GCM are relatively small.

KEYWORDS: European winter storms · Extra-tropical cyclones · Extreme wind speeds · Climate change · Global climate models · Regional climate modelling

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