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


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.

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The authors are grateful to S. Tyteca at CNRM for helpful CMIP5 data download. They also thank modeling groups, for producing and making available their model outputs, and the WCRP’s Working Group on Coupled Modeling responsible for CMIP. Finally, thanks to the two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments. This work is supported by the SECIF project from the French National Research Agency (ANR) and by the FP7 EUCLIPSE project (grant agreement #244067).

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Correspondence to Y. Peings.

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Peings, Y., Cattiaux, J. & Douville, H. Evaluation and response of winter cold spells over Western Europe in CMIP5 models. Clim Dyn 41, 3025–3037 (2013).

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  • Climate extremes
  • Cold spells
  • European climate
  • CMIP5 models
  • Models evaluation