The role of atmospheric rivers in compound events consisting of heavy precipitation and high storm surges along the Dutch coast

Authors: Nina Ridder and Hylke de Vries and Sybren Drijfhout
Journal: Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences
Year: 2018

Atmospheric river (AR) systems play a significant role in the simultaneous occurrence of high coastal water levels and heavy precipitation in the Netherlands. Based on observed precipitation values (E-OBS) and the output of a numerical storm surge model (WAQUA/DSCMv5) forced with ERA-Interim sea level pressure and wind fields, we find that the majority of compound events (CEs) between 1979 and 2015 have been accompanied by the presence of an AR over the Netherlands. In detail, we show that CEs have a 3 to 4 times higher chance of occurrence on days with an AR over the Netherlands compared to any random day (i.e. days without knowledge on presence of an AR). In contrast, the occurrence of a CE on a day without AR is 3 times less likely than on any random day. Additionally, by isolating and assessing the prevailing sea level pressure (SLP) and sea surface temperature (SST) conditions with and without AR involvement up to 7 days before the events, we show that the presence of ARs constitutes a specific type of forcing conditions that (i) resemble the SLP anomaly patterns during the positive phase of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO+) with a north–south pressure dipole over the North Atlantic and (ii) cause a cooling of the North Atlantic subpolar gyre and eastern boundary upwelling zone while warming the western boundary of the North Atlantic. These conditions are clearly distinguishable from those during compound events without the influence of an AR which occur under SLP conditions resembling the East Atlantic (EA) pattern with a west–east pressure dipole over northern Europe and are accompanied by a cooling of the West Atlantic. Thus, this study shows that ARs are a useful tool for the early identification of possible harmful meteorological conditions over the Netherlands and supports an effort for the establishment of an early warning system.