Climate Dynamics

, Volume 41, Issue 11, pp 3025-3037

First online:

Evaluation and response of winter cold spells over Western Europe in CMIP5 models

  • Y. PeingsAffiliated withCNRM-GAME, Météo-France and CNRSCNRM/GMGEC/VDR Email author 
  • , J. CattiauxAffiliated withCNRM-GAME, Météo-France and CNRS
  • , H. DouvilleAffiliated withCNRM-GAME, Météo-France and CNRS

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This paper is dedicated to the analysis of winter cold spells over Western Europe in the simulations of the 5th phase of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5). Both model biases and responses in a warming climate are discussed using historical simulations and the 8.5 W/m2 Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP8.5) scenario, respectively on the 1979–2008 and 2070–2099 periods. A percentile-based index (10th percentile of daily minimum temperature, Q10) with duration and spatial extent criteria is used to define cold spells. Related diagnostics (intensity, duration, extent, and severity as a combination of the former three statistics) of 13 models are compared to observations and suggest that models biases on severity are mainly due to the intensity parameter rather than to duration and extent. Some hypotheses are proposed to explain these biases, that involve large-scale dynamics and/or radiative fluxes related to clouds. Evolution of cold spells characteristics by the end of the century is then discussed by comparing RCP8.5 and historical simulations. In line with the projected rise of mean temperature, “present-climate” cold spells (computed with the 1979–2008 10th percentile, Q10P) are projected to be much less frequent and, except in one model, less severe. When cold spells are defined from the future 10th percentile threshold (“future-climate” cold spells, Q10F), all models simulate a decrease of their intensity linearly related to the seasonal mean warming. Some insights are given to explain the inter-model diversity in the magnitude of the cold spells response. In particular, the snow-albedo feedback is suggested to play an important role, while for some models changes in large-scale dynamics are also not negligible.


Climate extremes Cold spells European climate CMIP5 models Models evaluation