Organisations involved

What are extreme wind storms?

In this catalogue we focus on windstorms which have hit Europe. Most of the damaging windstorms in Europe are extra-tropical cyclones: synoptic-scale (~1000 km) low pressure systems, which grow from unstable frontal waves (Eady 1949, Shapiro & Keyser 1990). In order for these systems to grow, a strong north-south temperature gradient is needed, and a strongly baroclinic atmosphere. During the months October to March the North Atlantic Ocean satisfies these conditions, allowing extra-tropical cyclones to form (cyclogenesis) which travel eastwards towards Europe.

The path that these storms follow (storm track) tends to curve northwards (Hoskins & Hodges 2002), and so Iceland and northern European countries (e.g. the Faroe Islands, Ireland, the UK, and Scandinavia) are frequently hit. However, occasionally the storms can travel further southwards, for example when the jet stream is in a more southerly position (e.g. Liberato et al., 2013), affecting countries such as France, Portugal, and Spain.

High winds in Europe can also be a result of convective storms (the most severe of which are tornadoes) and cyclones formed in the Mediterranean basin (medicanes). However, these types of windstorm tend to be on a smaller scale and are not well captured by re-analysis data, so are not considered in this version of the catalogue.

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