- Storm location, frequency and intensity show considerable variability across Europe over the past century, such that no clear trends are apparent. A recent reanalysis suggests that storminess has increased over the past century in northern and north-western Europe but this finding is not yet robust.
- Climate change projections from a recent climate model ensemble study show a small increase in extreme wind speeds over northern parts of central and western Europe, and a decrease in southern Europe. The results of studies into changes in winter storm tracks show no clear signal.
What is the trend in extreme wind speeds across Europe?
Trends in the extreme wind speeds in the period 1871-2008 based on reanalysis
Note: Trends in the annual 95th percentile of daily maximum wind speeds in the 20th century reanalysis data set (ensemble mean) during the period 1871–2008. The trend is given in the units of the interannual standard deviation and plotted only when significant. The coloured circles indicate trends in the number of 'gale days' (an index that represents the number of extremely windy days) over the period at the specific locations.
- Reanalysis suggests long-term upward trend in European storminess since 1871 provided by American Geophysical Union (AGU)
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−1), statistical significance above 0.95 is shown by black dots.
- Reanalysis suggests long-term upward trend in European storminess since 1871 provided by Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences (NHESS)
Studies of past changes in extra-tropical storms have used a variety of methods for analysing their activity in the storm track regions, making it difficult to compare the results of different studies or to assess if there is any underlying climate change signal. 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]. Locally, increases in maximum gust wind speeds have been observed over recent decades but there is evidence for decreases in storm frequency since the 1990s [ii]. 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 storminess has not significantly changed over the past 200 years [iii]. They also indicate relatively high levels of storminess in north-western Europe 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 activity afterwards. Somewhat similar patterns were observed in other parts of Europe.
A single reanalysis study for the period 1871 to 2008 suggests an increasing trend in storminess across north-western Europe, with storminess towards the end of the 20th century reaching its highest values in the north-east North Atlantic, the North Sea and the Baltic Sea region (Figure 1) [iv]. However from other research there is evidence that both conflicts and agrees with this result [v]. Thus the results presented here have low confidence, especially over the question of the robustness of the reanalysis results for extreme wind speeds before the middle of the 20th century [vi].
The simulation of extra-tropical cyclones in climate models remains a scientific challenge in spite of significant recent progress in modelling techniques. Climate change projections show no clear consensus in the direction of movement (poleward or equator-ward) of extra-tropical cyclone activity in the North Atlantic region of western Europe [vii]. Earlier models showed some agreement on a future poleward shift in storm tracks, which would also increase the frequency of the most intense wind events in higher latitudes [viii]. However, more recent projections with climate models that include a higher resolution stratosphere show an equator-ward shift in the Atlantic storm track which could double the predicted increase in winter rainfall over western and central Europe compared to other climate projections [ix]. It should be noted that the measure used to identify ‘storm tracks’ is different to that for ‘cyclone tracks’, so caution should be exercised when comparing these two measures.
Several studies suggest decreases in the number of storms in Europe but increases in the strongest, most damaging storms, in particular in northern and western Europe [x]. The most recent research with a multi-model ensemble projects a small increase in the magnitude of the strongest winter storms over northern parts of central and western Europe, and a decrease in southern Europe, under a high emissions scenario (Figure 2) [xi]. The results are largely consistent with those of a recent study based on the GCM projections underlying the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report [xii].
[i] D. L. Hartmann et al., “Observations: Atmosphere and Surface,” in Climate 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, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press, 2013), Chapter 2, http://www.climatechange2013.org/report/full-report/; 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] 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): 117–131, doi:10.1007/s00704-008-0083-8; T. Usbeck et al., “Increasing Storm Damage to Forests in Switzerland from 1858 to 2007,” Agricultural and Forest Meteorology 241 (2010): 189–199.
[iii] C Matulla et al., “European Storminess: Late Nineteenth Century to Present,” Climate Dynamics 31, no. 2–3 (2007): 125–130, doi:10.1007/s00382-007-0333-y.
[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] 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; 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, n.d., 1–13, accessed October 24, 2013, doi:10.1007/s00382-013-1828-3.
[vi] 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): 868–874, doi:10.1175/JCLI-D-12-00309.1; Wang et al., “Is the Storminess in the Twentieth Century Reanalysis Really Inconsistent with Observations?”.
[vii] Hartmann et al., “Observations: Atmosphere and Surface”; Hov et al., Extreme Weather Events in Europe: Preparing for Climate Change Adaptation.
[viii] 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.
[ix] 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): 2089–2097, doi:10.1007/s00382-011-1080-7.
[x] J. G. Pinto et al., “Changes in Storm Track and Cyclone Activity in Three SRES Ensemble Experiments with the ECHAM5/MPI-OM1 GCM,” Climate Dynamics 29 (2007): 195–210, doi:10.1007/s00382-007-0230-4; Jens Boldingh Debernard and Lars Petter Røed, “Future Wind, Wave and Storm Surge Climate in the Northern Seas: A Revisit,” Tellus A 60, no. 3 (May 2008): 427–438, doi:10.1111/j.1600-0870.2008.00312.x; Paul M. Della-Marta and Joaquim G. Pinto, “Statistical Uncertainty of Changes in Winter Storms over the North Atlantic and Europe in an Ensemble of Transient Climate Simulations,” Geophysical Research Letters 36 (July 17, 2009): L14703, doi:10.1029/2009GL038557; Joaquim G. Pinto et al., “Factors Contributing to the Development of Extreme North Atlantic Cyclones and Their Relationship with the NAO,” Climate Dynamics 32, no. 5 (2009): 711–737, doi:10.1007/s00382-008-0396-4; Markus G. Donat et al., “European Storminess and Associated Circulation Weather Types: Future Changes Deduced from a Multi-Model Ensemble of GCM Simulations,” Climate Research 42, no. 1 (May 20, 2010): 27–43, doi:10.3354/cr00853; 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): 5846–5862, doi:10.1175/JCLI-D-12-00573.1.
[xi] 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): 1351–1370, doi:10.5194/nhess-11-1351-2011; Hartmann et al., “Observations: Atmosphere and Surface.”
[xii] Zappa et al., “A Multimodel Assessment of Future Projections of North Atlantic and European Extratropical Cyclones in the CMIP5 Climate Models*.”
Indicator specification and metadata
- Trends in the extreme wind speeds (95th percentile of daily maximum wind speed)
- Projected changes in extreme wind speed (98th percentile of daily maximum wind speed) based on GCM and RCM ensemble
- Interannual standard deviation
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 in the annual 95th percentile of daily maximum wind speeds in the 20th century reanalysis data set (ensemble mean) during the period 1871–2008. The trend is given in the units of the interannual standard deviation and plotted only when significant. Coloured circles indicate trends in the number of ‘gale days’ (an index that represents the number of extreme windy days) over the period at the specific locations.
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
- M. G. Donat et al. (2011): Reanalysis suggests long-term upward trends in European storminess since 1871 GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS, VOL. 38, L14703, 6 PP., doi:10.1029/2011GL047995
- M. G. Donat et al. (2011): Future changes in European winter storm losses and extreme wind speeds inferred from GCM and RCM multi-model simulationsnce Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 11, 1351-1370, 2011 www.nat-hazards-earth-syst-sci.net/11/1351/2011/ doi:10.5194/nhess-11-1351-2011
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.
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/)
No uncertainty has been specified
Future changes in European winter storm losses and extreme wind speeds
provided by Freie Universität Berlin
provided by Freie Universität Berlin
Climate change (Primary topic)
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
- CLIM 005
Contacts and ownership
EEA Contact InfoHans-Martin Füssel
EEA Management Plan2013 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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