- Annual precipitation trends since 1950 show an increase by up to 70 mm per decade in north-eastern and north-western Europe and a decrease by up to 70 mm in some parts of southern Europe.
- Seasonal precipitation trends show an increase in winter precipitation in northern Europe and a decrease in southern Europe, albeit with large interannual variations.
- The direction of future precipitation changes is simulated robustly in many parts of central and western Europe across all seasons. However, many parts of Europe, such as eastern and southern Europe, lack model consensus on the direction of change.
What is the trend in precipitation across Europe?
Trends in annual precipitation across Europe
Note: The trends are calculated using a median of pairwise slopes algorithm. Black dots represent high confidence in the sign of the long-term trend in the box (if the 5th to 95th percentile slopes are of the same sign). Boxes which have a thick outline contain at least three stations. Area averaged annual time series of percentage changes and trend lines are shown below each map for one area in northern Europe (blue line, 5.6 to 16.9 °E and 56.2 to 66.2 °N) and one in south‑western Europe (red line, 350.6 to 1.9 °E and 36.2 to 43.7 °N).
- E-OBS gridded dataset provided by Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI)
Projected changes in annual and summer precipitation
Note: Projected changes in annual (left) and summer (right) precipitation (%) between 1961-1990 and 2071-2100 as simulated by ENSEMBLES Regional Climate Models for the IPCC SRES A1B emission scenario.
- ENSEMBLES FP6 project provided by ENSEMBLE FP6 project
Annual precipitation records averaged across Europe show no significant changes since 1950 according to the E-OBS dataset [i], based on the European Climate Assessment dataset [ii]. At the sub-continental scale, the trend in precipitation is most significant in north-eastern and south-western Europe. The majority of Scandinavia and the Baltic States have observed an increase in annual precipitation of greater than 14 mm per decade, with an increase of up to 70 mm per decade in western Norway. In contrast, annual precipitation has decreased in the Iberian Peninsula, in particular in north-western Spain and in northern Portugal (Figure 1). While there is some evidence linking land use, in particular forest cover, to local and regional precipitation patterns[iii], it is not clear if the relatively minor land-use changes since 1950 have influenced the observed precipitation trends.
Seasonal mean precipitation values and inter-annual variability is better reproduced by an ensemble of RCMs than by any single RCM [iv]. Recent work, building on the two EU-funded research projects PRUDENCE [v] and ENSEMBLES [vi] has shown that RCMs have a reasonably strong consensus across Europe in predicting changes in seasonal average rainfall [vii]. These projections indicate a general increase in annual precipitation in northern Europe and a decrease in southern Europe. The change in annual mean between 1961-1990 and 2071-2100 according to the ENSEMBLES project varies between 10% and 20 % in northern Europe and between -5 to -20 % in southern Europe and the Mediterranean (Figure 2 left). Projections for summer precipitation show a decrease over southern, central and northwest Europe, which can reach of up to 60 % in parts of southern Europe. Precipitation is projected to remain constant or to increase slightly in northeast Europe [viii] (Figure 2 right).
[i] MR Haylock et al., „A European daily high-resolution gridded data set of surface temperature and precipitation for 1950–2006“, Journal of Geophysical Research 113, Nr. D20 (2008): D20119, doi:10.1029/2008JD010201.
[ii] E. J. Klok and A. M. G. Klein Tank, „Updated and extended European dataset of daily climate observations.“, International Journal of Climatology 29 (2009): 1182–1191, doi:10.1002/joc.1779.
[iii] M.M. Millán, Drought in the Mediterranean and summer floods in the UK and central and eastern Europe: What global climate models cannot see regarding the hydrological cycles in Europe and why Unpublished internal Gammeltoft-RACCM CIRCE report produced for the European Commission (Brussels: EC, 2008).
[iv] Martin Beniston et al., „Future extreme events in European climate: an exploration of regional climate model projections“, Climatic Change 81, Nr. S1 (März 22, 2007): 71–95, doi:10.1007/s10584-006-9226-z; F. J. Tapiador, „A Joint Estimate of the Precipitation Climate Signal in Europe Using Eight Regional Models and Five Observational Datasets“, Journal of Climate 23 (2010): 1719–1738, doi:10.1175/2009jcli2956.1.
[v] J.H. Christensen et al., „PRUDENCE employs new methods to assess European climate change“, EOS, Transactions American Geophysical Union 82, Nr. 147 (2002), doi:10.1029/2002EO000094.
[vi] P., van der Linden and J.F.B. Mitchell, ENSEMBLES: Climate Change and its Impacts: Summary of research and results from the ENSEMBLES project Technical report (FitzRoy Road, Exeter EX1 3PB, UK: Met Office Hadley Centre, 2009), http://ensembles-eu.metoffice.com/docs/Ensembles_final_report_Nov09.pdf.
[vii] Tapiador, „A Joint Estimate of the Precipitation Climate Signal in Europe Using Eight Regional Models and Five Observational Datasets“.
[viii] P., van der Linden and J.F.B. Mitchell, ENSEMBLES: Climate Change and its Impacts: Summary of research and results from the ENSEMBLES project; Tapiador, „A Joint Estimate of the Precipitation Climate Signal in Europe Using Eight Regional Models and Five Observational Datasets“.
Indicator specification and metadata
- Trends in annual precipitation across Europe
- Projected changes in annual and summer precipitation
Policy context and targets
In April 2013 the European Commission presented the EU Adaptation Strategy Package (http://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/adaptation/what/documentation_en.htm). This package consists of the EU Strategy on adaptation to climate change /* COM/2013/0216 final */ and a number of supporting documents. One of the objectives of the EU Adaptation Strategy is Better informed decision-making, which should occur through Bridging the knowledge gap and Further developing Climate-ADAPT as the ‘one-stop shop’ for adaptation information in Europe. Further objectives include Promoting action by Member States and Climate-proofing EU action: promoting adaptation in key vulnerable sectors. Many EU Member States have already taken action, such as by adopting national adaptation strategies, and several have also prepared action plans on climate change adaptation.
The European Commission and the European Environment Agency have developed the European Climate Adaptation Platform (Climate-ADAPT, http://climate-adapt.eea.europa.eu/) to share knowledge on observed and projected climate change and its impacts on environmental and social systems and on human health; on relevant research; on EU, national and subnational adaptation strategies and plans; and on adaptation case studies.
No targets have been specified.
Related policy documents
Climate-ADAPT: Mainstreaming adaptation in EU sector policies
Overview of EU sector policies in which mainstreaming of adaptation to climate change is ongoing or explored
Climate-ADAPT: National adaptation strategies
Overview of activities of EEA member countries in preparing, developing and implementing adaptation strategies
DG CLIMA: Adaptation to climate change
Adaptation means anticipating the adverse effects of climate change and taking appropriate action to prevent or minimise the damage they can cause, or taking advantage of opportunities that may arise. It has been shown that well planned, early adaptation action saves money and lives later. This webportal provides information on all adaptation activities of the European Commission.
EU Adaptation Strategy Package
In April 2013 the European Commission adopted an EU strategy on adaptation to climate change which has been welcomed by the EU Member States. The strategy aims to make Europe more climate-resilient. By taking a coherent approach and providing for improved coordination, it will enhance the preparedness and capacity of all governance levels to respond to the impacts of climate change.
Methodology for indicator calculation
Trends are calculated using a median of pairwise slopes algorithm. Black dots represent high confidence in the sign of the long-term trend in the box (if the 5th to 95th percentile slopes are of the same sign). Boxes which have a thick outline contain at least three stations. Area averaged annual time series of percentage changes and trend lines are shown below each map for one area in northern Europe (Blue line, 5.6 to 16.9 °E and 56.2 to 66.2 °N) and one in south-western Europe (red line, 350.6 to 1.9 °E and 36.2 to 43.7 °N).
Projections are based on the EURO-CORDEX initiative (http://www.euro-cordex.net/). They have been obtained from different regional climate models (RCMs) performing at 11 km spatial resolution with boundary conditions from five global climate models (GCMs), using different RCPs.
Methodology for gap filling
No methodology references available.
Data sets uncertainty
Daily precipitation totals are standard meteorological measures that have been recorded systematically since the 1860s. However, despite longevity of the precipitation record in certain areas, the high spatial and temporal variability of precipitation means that the climate change signal cannot be detected with certainty in all European regions. Difficulties for detecting a significant trend can arise from the small sampling area of rain gauges, calibration errors in instrumentation, erroneous measurements during weather conditions such as snow or gales, and from limited sampling of the spatial variability of precipitation, such as in mountainous areas. Therefore, observed and projected precipitation changes should always be considered in the context of interannual variability and the measurement or modelling uncertainty.
Further information on uncertainties is provided in Section 1.7 of the EEA report on Climate change, impacts, and vulnerability in Europe 2012 (http://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/climate-impacts-and-vulnerability-2012/
provided by EURO-CORDEX initiative
E-OBS gridded dataset
provided by Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI)
Climate change (Primary topic)
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
- CLIM 002
Contacts and ownership
EEA Contact InfoBlaz Kurnik
EEA Management Plan2012 2.0.1 (note: EEA internal system)
Frequency of updates
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
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