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Journal Articles Weather and Climate Dynamics Year : 2022

A climate-change attribution retrospective of some impactful weather extremes of 2021


The IPCC AR6 report outlines a general consensus that anthropogenic climate change is modifying the frequency and intensity of extreme events such as cold spells, heatwaves, storms or floods. A pertinent question is then whether climate change may have affected the characteristics of a specific extreme event, or whether such event would have even been possible in the absence of climate change. Here, we address this question by performing an attribution of some major extreme events that occurred in 2021 over Europe and North America: the winter storm Filomena, the French Spring cold spell, the Westphalia Floods, the Mediterranean summer heatwave, hurricane Ida, the Po Valley tornadoes outbreak, medicane Apollo and the late autumn Scandinavian cold spell. We focus on the role of the atmospheric circulation associated with the events and its typicality in present (factual world) and past climate conditions (counterfactual world) - defined using the ERA5 dataset 1950 to present. We first identify the most similar sea-level pressure patterns to the extreme events of interest in the factual and counterfactual worlds - so-called analogues. We then compute significant shifts in the spatial characteristics, persistence, predictability, seasonality and other characteristics of these analogues. We also diagnose whether in the present climate the analogues of the studied events lead to warmer/cooler or dryer/wetter conditions than in the past. Finally we verify whether the El-Nino--Southern Oscillation and the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation may explain interdecadal changes in the analogues' characteristics. We find that most of the extreme events we investigate are significantly modified in the present climate with respect to the past, because of changes in the location, persistence and/or seasonality of cyclonic/anticyclonic patterns in the sea-level pressure analogues. One of the events, Medicane Apollo, appears to be a black swan of the atmospheric circulation, with poor-quality analogues. Our approach, complementary to the statistical extreme event attribution methods in the literature, points to the potentially important role of the atmospheric circulation in attribution studies.
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Dates and versions

hal-03558636 , version 1 (04-02-2022)
hal-03558636 , version 2 (04-10-2022)





Davide Faranda, Stella Bourdin, Mireia Ginesta, Meriem Krouma, Gabriele Messori, et al.. A climate-change attribution retrospective of some impactful weather extremes of 2021. Weather and Climate Dynamics, 2022, 3, pp.1311-1340. ⟨10.5194/wcd-3-1311-2022⟩. ⟨hal-03558636v2⟩
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