The 21st century decline in damaging European windstorms
A decline in damaging European windstorms has led to a reduction in insured losses in the 21st century. This decline is explored by identifying a damaging windstorm characteristic and investigating how and why this characteristic has changed in recent years. This novel exploration is based on 6103 high-resolution model-generated historical footprints (1979–2014), representing the whole European domain.
The footprint of a windstorm is defined as the maximum wind gust speed to occur at a set of spatial locations over the duration of the storm. The area of the footprint exceeding 20 ms −1 over land, A20, is shown to be a good predictor of windstorm damage. This damaging characteristic has decreased in the 21st century, due to a statistically significant decrease in the relative frequency of windstorms exceeding 20 ms −1 in north-western Europe, although an increase is observed in southern Europe. This is explained by a decrease in the quantiles of the footprint wind gust speed distribution above approximately 18 ms −1 at locations in this region. In addition, an increased variability in the number of windstorm events is observed in the 21st century.
Much of the change in A20 is explained by the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). The correlation between winter total A20 and winter-averaged mean sea-level pressure resembles the NAO pattern, shifted eastwards over Europe, and a strong positive relationship (correlation of 0.715) exists between winter total A20 and winter-averaged NAO. The shifted correlation pattern, however, suggests that other modes of variability may also play a role in the variation in windstorm losses.