Wind of (climate) change: More frequent extreme winds over Europe in our future

Stephen Outten and a colleague from NORCE recently published a study on extreme winds over Europe for the remainder of this century, affecting more business sectors than you would think.

Climate change is not only expressed as increasing temperatures all over the globe, it also comes with extreme weather events occurring more often, lasting longer, or being even more intense. Looking back in time, winds are surprisingly the type of extreme event that caused the most financial losses in Europe each year. But we do not know very well how they are reacting to climate change: Wind speed extremes are very localized, making it difficult to simulate them properly. There is also no proper gridded observational wind speed dataset covering Europe - having one in place would make it much easier to validate simulations. 

Society as a whole suffers from these events. On a personal level, no one wants to get their house wrecked by storms, and on a business level, crucial sectors are affected: wind power and forestry rely on proper knowledge on winds, and architects and construction companies need to be able to design and build infrastructure to be safe. Aside from these, the insurance industry is a sector with a very high interest in extreme winds.

Stephen Outten (CDP group at NERSC) and Stefan Sobolowski (NORCE) took on the challenge to investigate how extreme winds are likely to change over Europe in this century. They used high-resolution simulations for wind speed over Northern, Central, and Southern Europe for their study Extreme wind projections over Europe from the Euro-CORDEX regional climate models. They were able to see that geographic features (mountain valleys, cities, and seas) have strong impacts on local wind speeds, due to a great improvement in model resolution compared to model ensembles.

 

Their conclusion is that all three regions so all of Europe will very likely see extreme winds more often in the future.  


The top left panel shows the separation in three regions, and the other panels show the future wind events in these three regions. The x axis represents the frequency of historical events, while the y axis represents the frequency of future events expected. As a reference, the black line represents the same frequency for future and historic events; no change in the future. The ratios for the near, mid, and far future all lie below the black line and this indicates that the future will bring more extreme wind events than the past. And the further we look into the future, the more events are expected, as indicated by the colours red, green, and blue. The trends are the same for all three European regions. Figure 7 from Outten & Sobolowski 2021, under creative commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.The top left panel shows the separation in three regions, and the other panels show the future wind events in these three regions. The x axis represents the frequency of historical events, while the y axis represents the frequency of future events expected. As a reference, the black line represents the same frequency for future and historic events; no change in the future. The ratios for the near, mid, and far future all lie below the black line and this indicates that the future will bring more extreme wind events than the past. And the further we look into the future, the more events are expected, as indicated by the colours red, green, and blue. The trends are the same for all three European regions. Figure 7 from Outten & Sobolowski 2021, under creative commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

Reference:

Outten, S, & S. Sobolowski. Extreme wind projections over Europe from the Euro-CORDEX regional climate models. Weather and Climate Extremes, 2021. 33 (100363). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wace.2021.100363

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