Physical storylines of future European drought events like 2018 based on ensemble climate modelling

Authors: Karin van der Wiel and Geert Lenderink and Hylke de Vries
Journal: Weather and Climate Extremes
Year: 2021

In the aftermath of observed extreme weather events, questions arise on the role of climate change in such events and what future events might look like. We present a method for the development of physical storylines of future events comparable to a chosen observed event, to answer some of these questions. A storyline approach, focusing on physical processes and plausibility rather than probability, improves risk awareness through its relation with our memory of the observed event and contributes to decision making processes through their user focus. The method is showcased by means of a proof-of-concept for the 2018 drought in western Europe. We create analogues of the observed event based on large ensemble climate model simulations representing 2 °C and 3 °C global warming scenarios, and discuss how event severity, event drivers and physical processes are influenced by climate change. We show that future Rhine basin meteorological summer droughts like 2018 will be more severe. Decreased precipitation and increased potential evapotranspiration, caused by higher temperatures and increased incoming solar radiation, lead to higher precipitation deficits and lower plant available soil moisture. Possibly, changes in atmospheric circulation contribute to increased spring drought, amplifying the most severe summer drought events. The spatial extent of the most severe drought impacts increases substantially. The noted changes can partly be explained by changes in mean climate, but for many variables, changes in the relative event severity on top of these mean changes contribute as well.