Climatic Change

, Volume 81, Supplement 1, pp 71-95

First online:

Future extreme events in European climate: an exploration of regional climate model projections

  • Martin BenistonAffiliated withClimate Research, University of Geneva Email author 
  • , David B. StephensonAffiliated withDepartment of Meteorology, University of Reading
  • , Ole B. ChristensenAffiliated withDanish Meteorological Institute
  • , Christopher A. T. FerroAffiliated withDepartment of Meteorology, University of Reading
  • , Christoph FreiAffiliated withSwiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH)
  • , Stéphane GoyetteAffiliated withClimate Research, University of Geneva
  • , Kirsten HalsnaesAffiliated withRisoe National Laboratory
  • , Tom HoltAffiliated withClimatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia
  • , Kirsti JylhäAffiliated withFinnish Meteorological Institute
    • , Brigitte KoffiAffiliated withUniversity of Fribourg
    • , Jean PalutikofAffiliated withClimatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia
    • , Regina SchöllAffiliated withSwiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH)
    • , Tido SemmlerAffiliated withMet Eireann
    • , Katja WothAffiliated withGKSS Research Center

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


This paper presents an overview of changes in the extreme events that are most likely to affect Europe in forthcoming decades. A variety of diagnostic methods are used to determine how heat waves, heavy precipitation, drought, wind storms, and storm surges change between present (1961–90) and future (2071–2100) climate on the basis of regional climate model simulations produced by the PRUDENCE project. A summary of the main results follows. Heat waves – Regional surface warming causes the frequency, intensity and duration of heat waves to increase over Europe. By the end of the twenty first century, countries in central Europe will experience the same number of hot days as are currently experienced in southern Europe. The intensity of extreme temperatures increases more rapidly than the intensity of more moderate temperatures over the continental interior due to increases in temperature variability. Precipitation – Heavy winter precipitation increases in central and northern Europe and decreases in the south; heavy summer precipitation increases in north-eastern Europe and decreases in the south. Mediterranean droughts start earlier in the year and last longer. Winter storms – Extreme wind speeds increase between 45°N and 55°N, except over and south of the Alps, and become more north-westerly than cuurently. These changes are associated with reductions in mean sea-level pressure, leading to more North Sea storms and a corresponding increase in storm surges along coastal regions of Holland, Germany and Denmark, in particular. These results are found to depend to different degrees on model formulation. While the responses of heat waves are robust to model formulation, the magnitudes of changes in precipitation and wind speed are sensitive to the choice of regional model, and the detailed patterns of these changes are sensitive to the choice of the driving global model. In the case of precipitation, variation between models can exceed both internal variability and variability between different emissions scenarios.