Climate Dynamics

, 33:1179 | Cite as

Trends and variability of storminess in the Northeast Atlantic region, 1874–2007

  • Xiaolan L. Wang
  • Francis W. Zwiers
  • Val R. Swail
  • Yang Feng


This article builds on the previous studies on storminess conditions in the northeast North Atlantic–European region. The period of surface pressure data analyzed is extended from 1881–1998 to 1874–2007. The seasonality and regional differences of storminess conditions in this region are also explored in more detail. The results show that storminess conditions in this region have undergone substantial decadal or longer time scale fluctuations, with considerable seasonal and regional differences. The most notable differences are seen between winter and summer, and between the North Sea area and other parts of the region. In particular, winter storminess shows an unprecedented maximum in the early 1990s in the North Sea area and a steady upward trend in the northeastern part of the region, while it appears to have declined in the western part of the region. In summer, storminess appears to have declined in most parts of this region. In the transition seasons, the storminess trend is characterized by increases in the northern part of the region and decreases in the southeastern part, with increases in the north being larger in spring. In particular, the results also show that the earliest storminess maximum occurred in summer (around 1880), while the latest storminess maximum occurred in winter (in the early 1990s). Looking at the annual metrics alone (as in previous studies), one would conclude that the latest storminess maximum is at about the same level as the earliest storminess maximum, without realizing that this is comparing the highest winter storminess level with the highest summer storminess level in the period of record analyzed, while winter and summer storminess conditions have undergone very different long-term variability and trends. Also, storminess conditions in the NE Atlantic region are found to be significantly correlated with the simultaneous NAO index in all seasons but autumn. The higher the NAO index, the rougher the NE Atlantic storminess conditions, especially in winter and spring.


North Atlantic Oscillation Index Geostrophic Wind Speed Storminess Condition North Pacific Storm Track Ocean Wave Height 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The authors are very grateful to Dr. Gil Compo and other members of GCOS/WCRP AOPC/OOPC (Atmosphere/Ocean Observation Panel for Climate) Working Group on Surface Pressure for providing us with the Integrated Surface Pressure Databank, which includes all the pressure data we analyzed in this study. The authors wish to thank Mr. Tommy Jang and Ms. Hui Wan for their help in downloading and extracting the data from the database. The authors also wish to acknowledge Mr. Torben Schmith of Danish Meteorological Institute for providing Val R. Swail his FORTRAN codes for calculating geostrophic wind speeds from pressure triangles, which we have modified slightly and used in this study. The authors also wish to thank Drs. Xuebin Zhang and Seung-Ki Min for their useful internal review of an earlier version of this manuscript, and the two anonymous reviewers for their helpful review comments.


  1. Alexander LV, Tett SFB (2005), Recent observed changes in severe storms over the United Kingdom and Iceland. Geophys Res Lett 32:L13704, doi: 10.1029/2005GL022371 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alexandersson H, Schmith T, Iden K, Tuomenvirta H (1998) Long-term variations of the storm climate over NW Europe. Glob Atmos Ocean Syst 6:97–120Google Scholar
  3. Alexandersson H, Tuomenvirta H, Schmith T, Iden K (2000) Trends of storms in NW Europe derived from an updated pressure data set. Clim Res 14:71–73CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bengtsson L, Hodges KI, Roeckner E (2006) Storm tracks and climate change. J Clim 19:3518–3543CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Environment Canada (cited 2004) The National Archives System QC program checks for hourly SA’s.
  6. Gillett NP, Zwiers FW, Weaver AJ, Stott PA (2003) Detection of human influence on sea-level pressure. Nature 422:292–294CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Gillett NP, Allan RJ, Ansell TJ (2005) Detection of external influence on sea level pressure with multi-model ensemble. Geophys Res Lett 32:L19714. doi: 10.1029/2005GL023640 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Gleason, BE, Compo GP, Matsui N, Yin X, Vose RS (2008) The integrated surface pressure databank (ISPD) Version 2.1, National Climatic Data Center, Asheville, NC, pp 1–12.
  9. Gulev SK, Zolina O, Grigoriev S (2001) Extratropical cyclone variability in the Northern Hemisphere winter from the NCEP/NCAR reanalysis data. Clim Dyn 17:795–809CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Kendall MG (1955) Rank Correlation Methods. Charles Griffin, 196ppGoogle Scholar
  11. Hess A, Iyer H, Malm W (2001) Linear trend analysis: a comparison of methods. Atmos Environ 35:5211–5222CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hirsch RM, Slack JR (1984) A nonparametric trend test for seasonal data with serial dependence. Water Resour Res 20:727–732CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hirsch RM, Slack JR, Smith RA (1982) Techniques of trend analysis for monthly water quality data. Water Resour Res 18:107–121CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hurrell JW (1995) Decadal trends in the North Atlantic Oscillation: regional temperatures and precipitation. Science 269:676–679CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hurrell JW, van Loon H (1997) Decadal variations in climate associated with the North Atlantic oscillation. Climatic Change 36:301–326CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Jung T, Hilmer M, Ruprecht E, Kleppek S, Gulev SK, Zolina O (2003) Characteristics of the recent eastward shift of interannual NAO variability. J Clim 16:3371–3382CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Leckebusch GC, Ulbrich U (2004) On the relationship between cyclones and extreme windstorms over Europe under climate change. Glob Planet Change 44:181–193CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Leckebusch GC, Koffi B, Ulbrich U, Pinto JG, Spangehl T, Zacharias S (2006) Analysis of frequency and intensity of winter storm events in Europe on synoptic and regional scales from a multi-model perspective. Clim Res 31:59–74CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Mann HB (1945) Non-parametric tests against trend. Econometrica 13:245–259CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Matulla C, Schoener W, Alexandersson H, von Stroch H, Wang XL (2008) European Storminess: Late nineteenth century to present. Clim Dyn 31:125–130. doi: 10.1007/s00382-007-0333-y CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. McCabe GJ, Clark MP, Serreze MC (2001) Trends in Northern Hemisphere surface cyclone frequency and intensity. J Clim 14:2763–2768CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Pinto JG, Ulbrich U, Leckebusch GC, Spangehl T, Reyers M, Zacharias S (2007) Changes in storm track and cyclone activity in three SRES ensemble experiments with the ECHAM5/MPI-OM1 GCM. Clim Dyn 29:195–210CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Schmith T (1995) Occurrence of severe winds in Denmark during the past 100 years. In: Proceedings of the sixth international meeting on statistical climatology, pp 83–86Google Scholar
  24. Schmidt H, von Storch H (1993) German Bight storms analyzed. Nature 365:791CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Schmith T, Alexandersson H, Iden K, Tuomenvirta H (1997) North Atlantic–European pressure observation 1868–1995 (WASA dataset 1). Technical Report 97-3, Danish Meteorological Institute, Copenhagen, DenmarkGoogle Scholar
  26. Schmith T, Kaas E, Li T-S (1998) Northeast Atlantic winter storminess 1875–1995 re-analyzed. Clim Dyn 14:529–536CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Trenberth KE et al (2007) Observations: surface and atmospheric climate change. In: Solomon S et al (eds) Climate change 2007: the physical science basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, New York, USA, 944ppGoogle Scholar
  28. Ulbrich U, Christoph M (1999) A shift of the NAO and increasing storm track activity over Europe due to Anthropogenic Greenhouse Gas Forcing. Clim Dyn 15:551–559CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Ulbrich U, Pinto JG, Kupfer H, Leckebusch GC, Spangehl T, Reyers M (2008a) Northern Hemisphere storm tracks in an ensemble of IPCC climate change simulations. J Clim 21:1669–1679CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Ulbrich U, Leckebusch GC, Pinto JG (2008b) Extra-tropical cyclones in the present and future climate: a review. Theor App Climatol (accepted)Google Scholar
  31. Uppala SM and co-authors (2005) The ERA-40 re-analysis. Quart J Roy Meteor Soc 131:2961–3012Google Scholar
  32. Wang XL (2008a) Accounting for autocorrelation in detecting mean shifts in climate data series using the penalized maximal t or F test. J App Meteor Climatol 47:2423–2444. doi: 10.1175/2008JAMC1741.1 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Wang XL (2008b) Penalized maximal F test for detecting undocumented mean shift without trend change. J Atmos Oceanic Technol 25:368–384. doi: 10.1175/2007/JTECHA982.1 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Wang XL, Feng Y (2007) RHtestV2 User Manual. (published online). Climate Research Division, Science and Technology Branch, Environment Canada, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 19 pp
  35. Wang XLL, Swail VR (2001) Changes of extreme wave heights in Northern Hemisphere Oceans and related atmospheric circulation regimes. J Clim 14:2204–2221CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Wang XLL, Swail VR, Zwiers FW (2006a) Climatology and changes of extra-tropical cyclone activity: comparison of ERA-40 with NCEP/NCAR Reanalysis for 1958–2001. J Clim 19:3145–3166. doi: 10.1175/JCLI3781.1 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Wang XLL, Wan H, Swail VR (2006b) Observed changes in cyclone activity in Canada and their relationships to major circulation regimes. J Climate 19(6):896–915. doi: 10.1175/JCLI3664.1 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Wang XLL, Swail VR, Zwiers FW, Zhang X, Feng Y (2008) Detection of external influence on trends of atmospheric storminess and northern oceans wave heights. Clim Dyn (in press). doi: 10.1007/s00382-008-0442-2
  39. WASA Group (1998) Changing waves and storms in the Northeast Atlantic? Bull Am Meteor Soc 79(5):741–760Google Scholar

Copyright information

© © Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Xiaolan L. Wang
    • 1
  • Francis W. Zwiers
    • 1
  • Val R. Swail
    • 1
  • Yang Feng
    • 1
  1. 1.Climate Research DivisionAtmospheric Science and Technology Branch, Environment CanadaTorontoCanada

Personalised recommendations