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Precipitation extremes

Indicator Assessmentexpired Created 07 Nov 2012 Published 19 Nov 2012 Last modified 04 Sep 2015, 07:00 PM
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This content has been archived on 12 Sep 2014, reason: Other (New version data-and-maps/indicators/precipitation-extremes-in-europe-2/assessment was published)
Indicator codes: CLIM 004

Key messages

  • There are no widespread significant trends in either the number of consecutive dry or wet days across Europe.
  • Heavy precipitation events are likely to become more frequent in most parts of Europe. The changes are strongest in Scandinavia in winter and in northern and eastern central Europe in summer.

What is the trend in the length of dry and wet periods, and in heavy precipitation events across Europe?

Projected changes in 20-year maximum precipitation in summer and winter

Note: Projected changes in 20-year maximum daily precipitation in summer (left) and winter (right) from 1961–1990 to 2071–2100 based on the ensemble mean using a regional climate model (RCM) nested in 6 general circulation model (GCMs). Changes that approximately lie outside of ± 10 % for the ensemble average are significant at the 10 % significance level.

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Past trends

Observational records do not indicate widespread significant trends in either the number of consecutive wet days (indicating flood risks) or dry days (indicating drought risks) across Europe (Figure 1). Some changes in these variables have been observed across Europe but most of them are not statistically significant due to large natural variability. Interestingly, parts of north-western and north-eastern Europe show significant increasing trends in both the number of wet days and dry days. The proportion of Europe that has experienced extreme or moderate meteorological drought conditions did not change significantly during the 20th century [1]. Summer droughts have also shown no statistically significant trend during the period 1901–2002 [2].


Model-based projections for the 21st century show a reduction in the contribution of low rainfall days to total annual precipitation, and an increase in the contribution of high rainfall days in most parts of Europe, with the exception of the Iberian Peninsula and Mediterranean regions [3]. The recurrence time of intense precipitation is reduced from 20 years in the 1961–1990 periods to 6–10 years in the 2071–2100 period over northern and eastern central Europe in summer (Figure 2 left) and to 2–4 years in Scandinavia in winter (Figure 2 right) [4].

Extreme precipitation events are likely to become more frequent in Europe [5]. Changes in extreme precipitation depend on the region, with a high confidence of increased extreme precipitation in northern, Atlantic (all seasons) and central Europe (except in summer) [6]. Future projections are inconsistent in southern Europe (all seasons) [7]. The number of consecutive dry days is projected to increase significantly in southern and central Europe, in particular in summer, and to decrease in northern Europe, in particular in winter [8].

 [1] B. Lloyd-Hughes and M. A. Saunders, “A Drought Climatology for Europe,” International Journal of Climatology 22 (2002): 1571–1592, doi:10.1002/joc.846.

[2] A. Robock et al., “Forty-five Years of Observed Soil Moisture in the Ukraine: No Summer Desiccation (yet),” Geophysical Research Letters 32 (2005): L03401, doi:10.1029/2004GL021914.

[3] F Boberg et al., “Improved Confidence in Climate Change Projections of Precipitation Further Evaluated Using Daily Statistics from ENSEMBLES Models,” Climate Dynamics 35 (2009): 1509–1520, doi:10.1007/s00382-009-0683-8.

[4] J. E. Haugen and T. Iversen, “Response in Extremes of Daily Precipitation and Wind from a Downscaled Multi-model Ensemble of Anthropogenic Global Climate Change Scenarios,” Tellus Series A – Dynamic Meteorology and Oceanography 60, no. 3 (2008): 411–426; G Nikulin et al., “Evaluation and Future Projections of Temperature, Precipitation and Wind Extremes over Europe in an Ensemble of Regional Climate Simulations,” Tellus Series A 64 (2011): 41–55, doi:10.1111/j.1600-0870.2010.00466.x; S. I. Seneviratne et al., “Changes in Climate Extremes and Their Impacts on the Natural Physical Environment,” in Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation, A Special Report of Working Groups I and II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), pp. 109–230,

[5] S. Solomon et al., eds., Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis (Cambridge (UK): Cambridge University Press, 2007).

[6] Seneviratne et al., “Changes in Climate Extremes and Their Impacts on the Natural Physical Environment.”

[7] J Sillman and E Roeckner, “Indices of Extreme Events in Projections of Anthropogenic Climate Change,” Climatic Change 86, no. 1 (2008): 83–104, doi:10.1007/s10584-007-9308-6; Boberg et al., “Improved Confidence in Climate Change Projections of Precipitation Further Evaluated Using Daily Statistics from ENSEMBLES Models”; Seneviratne et al., “Changes in Climate Extremes and Their Impacts on the Natural Physical Environment.”

[8] IPCC, Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation. Special Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, ed. C. B. Field et al. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), fig. 3.10,

Indicator specification and metadata

Indicator definition

  • Trends in consecutive wet days and consecutive dry days
  • Projected changes in 20-year maximum precipitation in summer and winter


  • dry days/decade
  • wet days/decade
  • %

Policy context and targets

Context description

In April 2013 the European Commission presented the EU Adaptation Strategy Package ( 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, 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

The number of consecutive wet days is defined as the number of days in a row during which every day is a wet day (daily precipitation amounts are more than 1 mm in every day during the period). Respectively, consecutive dry days show less than 1 mm per day.

Precipitation extremes over Europe are examined in an ensemble of RCA3 regional climate model simulations driven by six different global climate models (ECHAM5, CCSM3, HadCM3, CNRM, BCM and IPSL) under the SRES A1B emission scenario. The extremes are expressed in terms of the 20-yr return values of seasonal precipitation extremes.

Methodology for gap filling

Not applicable

Methodology references

No methodology references available.


Methodology uncertainty

Not applicable

Data sets uncertainty

The risks posed by precipitation-related hazards, such as flooding events (including flash floods) and landslides, are also influenced by non-climatic factors, such as population density, floodplain development and land-use change. Hence, estimates of future changes in such risks need to consider changes in both climatic and non-climatic factors. Estimates of trends in heavy or extreme precipitation are more uncertain than trends in mean precipitation because, by their very nature, extreme precipitation events have a low frequency of occurrence. This leads to greater uncertainties when assessing the statistical significance of observed changes.

Further information on uncertainties is provided in Section 1.7 of the EEA report on Climate change, impacts, and vulnerability in Europe 2012 (

Rationale uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Data sources

Generic metadata


Climate change Climate change (Primary topic)

Water Water

europe | climate change | precipitation | temperatures
DPSIR: Impact
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • CLIM 004
Temporal coverage:
1960-2012, 2071-2098
Geographic coverage:
Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Europe, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom

Contacts and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Blaz Kurnik

EEA Management Plan

2012 2.0.1 (note: EEA internal system)


Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled every 4 years
European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Phone: +45 3336 7100