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Connecting Atmospheric Blocking to European Temperature Extremes in Spring

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  • 1 Wegener Center for Climate and Global Change (WEGC), Institute for Geophysics, Astrophysics, and Meteorology/Institute of Physics, and Fonds zur Förderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung—Doktoratskolleg (FWF-DK) Climate Change, University of Graz, Graz, Austria
  • | 2 School of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
  • | 3 Wegener Center for Climate and Global Change (WEGC), Institute for Geophysics, Astrophysics, and Meteorology/Institute of Physics, and Fonds zur Förderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung—Doktoratskolleg (FWF-DK) Climate Change, University of Graz, Graz, Austria
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Abstract

Atmospheric blocking is an important contributor to European temperature variability. It can trigger cold and warm spells, which is of specific relevance in spring because vegetation is particularly vulnerable to extreme temperatures in the growing season. The spring season is investigated as a transition period from predominant connections of blocking with cold spells in winter to predominant connections of blocking with warm spells in summer. Extreme temperatures are termed cold or warm spells if temperature stays outside the 10th to 90th percentile range for at least six consecutive days. Cold and warm spells in Europe over 1979–2014 are analyzed in observations from the European daily high-resolution gridded dataset (E-OBS) and the connection to blocking is examined in geopotential height fields from ERA-Interim. A highly significant link between blocking and cold and warm spells is found that changes during spring. Blocking over the northeastern Atlantic and Scandinavia is correlated with the occurrence of cold spells in Europe, particularly early in spring, whereas blocking over central Europe is associated with warmer conditions, particularly from March onward. The location of the block also impacts the spatial distribution of temperature extremes. More than 80% of cold spells in southeastern Europe occur during blocking whereas warm spells are correlated with blocking mainly in northern Europe. Over the analysis period, substantial interannual variability is found but also a decrease in cold spells and an increase in warm spells. The long-term change to a warmer climate holds the potential for even higher vulnerability to spring cold extremes.

Denotes Open Access content.

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.

Publisher’s Note: This article was revised on 26 December 2017 to include the CC BY reuse license designation that was missing when originally published.

Corresponding author e-mail: lukas.brunner@uni-graz.at

Abstract

Atmospheric blocking is an important contributor to European temperature variability. It can trigger cold and warm spells, which is of specific relevance in spring because vegetation is particularly vulnerable to extreme temperatures in the growing season. The spring season is investigated as a transition period from predominant connections of blocking with cold spells in winter to predominant connections of blocking with warm spells in summer. Extreme temperatures are termed cold or warm spells if temperature stays outside the 10th to 90th percentile range for at least six consecutive days. Cold and warm spells in Europe over 1979–2014 are analyzed in observations from the European daily high-resolution gridded dataset (E-OBS) and the connection to blocking is examined in geopotential height fields from ERA-Interim. A highly significant link between blocking and cold and warm spells is found that changes during spring. Blocking over the northeastern Atlantic and Scandinavia is correlated with the occurrence of cold spells in Europe, particularly early in spring, whereas blocking over central Europe is associated with warmer conditions, particularly from March onward. The location of the block also impacts the spatial distribution of temperature extremes. More than 80% of cold spells in southeastern Europe occur during blocking whereas warm spells are correlated with blocking mainly in northern Europe. Over the analysis period, substantial interannual variability is found but also a decrease in cold spells and an increase in warm spells. The long-term change to a warmer climate holds the potential for even higher vulnerability to spring cold extremes.

Denotes Open Access content.

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.

Publisher’s Note: This article was revised on 26 December 2017 to include the CC BY reuse license designation that was missing when originally published.

Corresponding author e-mail: lukas.brunner@uni-graz.at
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