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Earth System Dynamics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 6, issue 2
Earth Syst. Dynam., 6, 541–553, 2015
https://doi.org/10.5194/esd-6-541-2015
© Author(s) 2015. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Earth Syst. Dynam., 6, 541–553, 2015
https://doi.org/10.5194/esd-6-541-2015
© Author(s) 2015. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Research article 01 Sep 2015

Research article | 01 Sep 2015

Climatology of Vb cyclones, physical mechanisms and their impact on extreme precipitation over Central Europe

M. Messmer1,2, J. J. Gómez-Navarro1,2, and C. C. Raible1,2 M. Messmer et al.
  • 1Climate and Environmental Physics, Physics Institute, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland
  • 2Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland

Abstract. Cyclones, which develop over the western Mediterranean and move northeastward are a major source of extreme weather and known to be responsible for heavy precipitation over the northern side of the Alpine range and Central Europe. As the relevant processes triggering these so-called Vb events and their impact on extreme precipitation are not yet fully understood, this study focuses on gaining insight into the dynamics of past events. For this, a cyclone detection and tracking tool is applied to the ERA-Interim reanalysis (1979–2013) to identify prominent Vb situations. Precipitation in the ERA-Interim and the E-OBS data sets is used to evaluate case-to-case precipitation amounts and to assess consistency between the two data sets. Both data sets exhibit high variability in precipitation amounts among different Vb events. While only 23 % of all Vb events are associated with extreme precipitation, around 15 % of all extreme precipitation days (99 percentile) over the northern Alpine region and Central Europe are induced by Vb events, although Vb cyclones are rare events (2.3 per year). To obtain a better understanding of the variability within Vb events, the analysis of the 10 heaviest and lowest precipitation Vb events reveals noticeable differences in the state of the atmosphere. These differences are most pronounced in the geopotential height and potential vorticity field, indicating a much stronger cyclone for heavy precipitation events. The related differences in wind direction are responsible for the moisture transport around the Alps and the orographical lifting along the northern slopes of the Alps. These effects are the main reasons for a disastrous outcome of Vb events, and consequently are absent in the Vb events associated with low precipitation. Hence, our results point out that heavy precipitation related to Vb events is mainly related to large-scale dynamics rather than to thermodynamic processes.

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