Wind storms

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-93-en
Also known as: CLIM 005
Created 04 Jan 2017 Published 04 Jan 2017 Last modified 04 Jan 2017
Storm location, frequency and intensity have shown considerable decadal variability across Europe over the past century, such that no significant long-term trends are apparent. Recent studies on changes in winter storm tracks generally project an extension eastwards of the North Atlantic storm track towards central Europe and the British Isles. Climate change simulations show diverging projections on changes in the number of winter storms across Europe. However, most studies agree that the risk of severe winter storms, and possibly of severe autumn storms, will increase for the North Atlantic and northern, north-western and central Europe over the 21st century.

Key messages

  • Storm location, frequency and intensity have shown considerable decadal variability across Europe over the past century, such that no significant long-term trends are apparent.
  • Recent studies on changes in winter storm tracks generally project an extension eastwards of the North Atlantic storm track towards central Europe and the British Isles.
  • Climate change simulations show diverging projections on changes in the number of winter storms across Europe. However, most studies agree that the risk of severe winter storms, and possibly of severe autumn storms, will increase for the North Atlantic and northern, north-western and central Europe over the 21st century.

What is the trend in extreme wind speeds across Europe?

Projected changes in extreme wind speed based on GCM and RCM ensembles

Note: Ensemble mean of changes in extreme wind speed (defined as the 98th percentile of daily maximum wind speed) for A1B (2071–2100) relative to 1961–2000. Left: based on 9 GCMs. Right: based on 11 RCMs. Coloured areas indicate the magnitude of change (unit: m/s), statistical significance above 0.95 is shown by black dots.

Data source:
Downloads and more info

Past trends

Studies of past changes in extra-tropical storms have used a variety of methods, making it difficult to compare the results of different studies or to assess if there is any underlying trend in climate change. Storm location and intensity in Europe has shown considerable variation over the past century, but Northern Hemisphere storm tracks and intensity have likely shifted northwards since at least 1970 [i].

Wind data at the local or regional levels can show a series of decreases and increases continuing over several decades. Long records of wind speed for various regions across Europe indicate that storm intensity (i.e. storminess) has not significantly changed over the past 200 years. Available studies of storminess in north-western Europe indicate relatively high levels during the 1880s, followed by below-average conditions between the 1930s and 1960s, a pronounced increase in storminess until the mid-1990s, and average or below-average activity afterwards. Somewhat similar patterns were observed in other parts of Europe [ii].

There is low confidence in the robustness of reanalysis results for extreme wind speeds before the middle of the 20th century [iii]. A single reanalysis study for the period 1871–2008 suggests an increasing trend in storminess across western, central and northern Europe, with storminess in the North Sea and the Baltic Sea region reaching its highest values towards the end of the 20th century [iv]. Other studies have produced evidence that both conflicts and agrees with this result [v].

Projections

The simulation of extra-tropical cyclones in climate models remains a scientific challenge in spite of recent significant progress in modelling techniques. Earlier model studies showed shifts both polewards [vi] and towards the equator [vii] in the Atlantic storm track. The latter could double the predicted increase in winter rainfall over western and central Europe compared with other climate projections. Recent simulations based on CMIP5 data project an extension eastwards of the North Atlantic storm track towards central Europe and the British Isles [viii].

Modelling studies show diverging results on changes in the number of storms across Europe, but they generally agree on increases in the strongest, most damaging storms in most European regions. A study using a multi-model ensemble projects a small increase in the wind speed of the strongest winter storms over northern parts of central and western Europe, and a decrease in southern Europe (Figure 1) [ix]. The associated change in mean potential economic loss varied between –7 % in the Iberian Peninsula and +25 % in Germany.

A comprehensive review study covering the North Atlantic and northern, north-western and central Europe shows large agreement that the intensity of winter storms will increase in all these regions over the 21st century [x]. Another recent study focusing on central Europe concluded that models consistently projected an increased frequency and intensity of severe storms over central Europe. Under SRES A1B conditions, increases in frequency towards the end of the 21st century range between −11 % and +44 %, with an ensemble average of 21 % [xi]. The intensity of storms affecting central Europe once a year was found to increase by about +30 %, with individual models projecting changes between −28 % and up to +96 %. These results are largely consistent with those of a recent study based on the GCM projections underlying the IPCC AR5 [xii]. One recent study with a single, very high-resolution (~25 km) GCM indicates that the frequency and intensity in Europe of severe autumn storms originating in the tropical Atlantic will increase in a warmer future climate as will the area affected [xiii]. However, this result cannot be considered robust, as it has not yet been confirmed by other studies.

In summary, the risk of severe winter storms, and possibly of severe autumn storms, is projected to increase in many regions in Europe, in particular for the North Atlantic and northern, north-western and central Europe.



[i] U. Ulbrich, G.C. Leckebusch, and J.G. Pinto, “Extra-Tropical Cyclones in the Present and Future Climate: A Review,”Theoretical and Applied Climatology 96 (2009): 117–31, doi:10.1007/s00704-008-0083-8; Øystein Hov et al., “Extreme Weather Events in Europe: Preparing for Climate Change Adaptation” (Oslo: Norwegian Meteorological Institute, 2013), http://www.dnva.no/binfil/download.php?tid=58783.

[ii] C Matulla et al., “European Storminess: Late Nineteenth Century to Present,”Climate Dynamics 31, no. 2–3 (2007): 125–30, doi:10.1007/s00382-007-0333-y; F. Feser et al., “Storminess over the North Atlantic and Northwestern Europe-A Review: Storminess over the North Atlantic and Northwestern Europe-A Review,”Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society 141 (May 2014): 350–82, doi:10.1002/qj.2364.

[iii] D. L. Hartmann et al., “Observations: Atmosphere and Surface,” inClimate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, ed. T. F. Stocker et al. (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), Chapter 2, http://www.climatechange2013.org/report/full-report/; Feser et al., “Storminess over the North Atlantic and Northwestern Europe-A Review.”

[iv] M. G. Donat et al., “Reanalysis Suggests Long-Term Upward Trend in European Storminess since 1871,”Geophysical Research Letters 38 (2011), doi:10.1029/2011GL047995.

[v] X. L Wang et al., “Trends and Low-Frequency Variability of Storminess over Western Europe, 1878–2007.,”Climate Dynamics, 2011, doi:10.1007/s00382-011-1107-0; Xiaolan L. Wang et al., “Is the Storminess in the Twentieth Century Reanalysis Really Inconsistent with Observations? A Reply to the Comment by Krueger et Al. (2013b),”Climate Dynamics 42, no. 3–4 (February 1, 2014): 1113–25, doi:10.1007/s00382-013-1828-3; S. Brönnimann et al., “Extreme Winds at Northern Mid-Latitudes since 1871,”Meteorologische Zeitschrift 21, no. 1 (February 1, 2012): 13–27, doi:10.1127/0941-2948/2012/0337; Oliver Krueger et al., “Inconsistencies between Long-Term Trends in Storminess Derived from the 20CR Reanalysis and Observations,”Journal of Climate 26, no. 3 (February 2013): 868–74, doi:10.1175/JCLI-D-12-00309.1.

[vi] G. Gastineau and B. J. Soden, “Model Projected Changes of Extreme Wind Events in Response to Global Warming,”Geophysical Research Letters 36, no. L10810 (2009), doi:10.1029/2009GL037500.

[vii] R McDonald, “Understanding the Impact of Climate Change on Northern Hemisphere Extra-Tropical Cyclones,”Climate Dynamics 37 (2011): 1399–1425, doi:10.1007/s00382-010-0916-x; Adam A. Scaife et al., “Climate Change Projections and Stratosphere–troposphere Interaction,”Climate Dynamics 38, no. 9–10 (May 27, 2011): 2089–97, doi:10.1007/s00382-011-1080-7.

[viii] Giuseppe Zappa et al., “A Multimodel Assessment of Future Projections of North Atlantic and European Extratropical Cyclones in the CMIP5 Climate Models,”Journal of Climate 26, no. 16 (2013): 5846–62, doi:10.1175/JCLI-D-12-00573.1.

[ix] M. G. Donat et al., “Future Changes in European Winter Storm Losses and Extreme Wind Speeds Inferred from GCM and RCM Multi-Model Simulations,”Natural Hazards and Earth System Science 11, no. 5 (May 12, 2011): 1351–70, doi:10.5194/nhess-11-1351-2011.

[x] Feser et al., “Storminess over the North Atlantic and Northwestern Europe-A Review.”

[xi] Tobias Pardowitz, “Anthropogenic Changes in the Frequency and Severity of European Winter Storms,” Dissertation (Berlin: Free University, 2015), http://www.diss.fu-berlin.de/diss/receive/FUDISS_thesis_000000098134.

[xii] Zappa et al., “A Multimodel Assessment of Future Projections of North Atlantic and European Extratropical Cyclones in the CMIP5 Climate Models.”

[xiii] Michiel Baatsen et al., “Severe Autumn Storms in Future Western Europe with a Warmer Atlantic Ocean,”Climate Dynamics 45, no. 3–4 (August 2015): 949–64, doi:10.1007/s00382-014-2329-8.

Indicator specification and metadata

Indicator definition

  • Projected changes in extreme wind speed (98th percentile of daily maximum wind speed) based on GCM and RCM ensemble

Units

  • m/s

Policy context and targets

Context description

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.

In September 2016, the EC presented an indicative roadmap for the evaluation of the EU Adaptation Strategy by 2018.

In November 2013, the European Parliament and the European Council adopted the 7th EU Environment Action Programme (7th EAP) to 2020, ‘Living well, within the limits of our planet’. The 7th EAP is intended to help guide EU action on environment and climate change up to and beyond 2020. It highlights that ‘Action to mitigate and adapt to climate change will increase the resilience of the Union’s economy and society, while stimulating innovation and protecting the Union’s natural resources.’ Consequently, several priority objectives of the 7th EAP refer to climate change adaptation.

Targets

No targets have been specified.

Related policy documents

  • 7th Environment Action Programme
    DECISION No 1386/2013/EU OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 20 November 2013 on a General Union Environment Action Programme to 2020 ‘Living well, within the limits of our planet’. In November 2013, the European Parliament and the European Council adopted the 7 th EU Environment Action Programme to 2020 ‘Living well, within the limits of our planet’. This programme is intended to help guide EU action on the environment and climate change up to and beyond 2020 based on the following vision: ‘In 2050, we live well, within the planet’s ecological limits. Our prosperity and healthy environment stem from an innovative, circular economy where nothing is wasted and where natural resources are managed sustainably, and biodiversity is protected, valued and restored in ways that enhance our society’s resilience. Our low-carbon growth has long been decoupled from resource use, setting the pace for a safe and sustainable global society.’
  • 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 in the future. This web portal 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 enhances the preparedness and capacity of all governance levels to respond to the impacts of climate change.

Methodology

Methodology for indicator calculation

Ensemble mean of changes in extreme wind speed (defined as the 98th percentile of daily maximum wind speed) for A1B (2071–2100) relative to 1961–2000. Statistical significance above 0.95 is shown by black dots.

Methodology for gap filling

To accurately assess trends in extreme winds at local scales, high-resolution datasets are required. These climatological datasets are compiled from the observation networks from countries and additional data from regional observations networks. As some countries do not share all of their datasets, the spatial and temporal coverage of the European dataset, and consequently the accuracy of past trends, varies across Europe.

However, even where sufficient data are available, several problems can limit their use for analysis. These problems are mainly connected with 1) limitations of distributing data in high spatial and temporal resolution by many countries, 2) unavailability of data in easy-to-use digital format, and lack of data homogeneity. 

Methodology references

Uncertainties

Methodology uncertainty

See under "Methodology".

Data sets uncertainty

A dense network of stations across the globe, and particularly in Europe, now provide regular monitoring of key atmospheric climate variables, using standardised measurements, quality control and homogeneity procedures at European level. However, even where sufficient data are available, several problems can limit their use for analysis. These problems are mainly connected with 1) limitations of distributing data in high spatial and temporal resolution by many countries, 2) unavailability of data in easy-to-use digital format, and lack of data homogeneity. The situation in Europe is improving since several EU-funded projects (such as ECA&D and EURO4M) have started to collect, digitalise and homogenise additional time series of the essential climate variables. In addition, EUMETNET  initiated an optional programme, EUMETGRID , which aims to develop and maintain a sustainable common data infrastructure for access to and distribution of gridded climate information in Europe and establish recommendations of best practices for establishing national and European gridded datasets.

Rationale uncertainty

See under "Methodology".

Data sources

Generic metadata

Topics:

DPSIR: Impact
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • CLIM 005
Temporal coverage:

Contacts and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Blaz Kurnik

EEA Management Plan

2016 1.4.1 (note: EEA internal system)

Dates

Frequency of updates

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