Storm research could help forecasters make long-term predictions–conference told

New research is revealing why and how Europe is vulnerable to ‘explosive’ weather events

Storm Gertrude hit Ireland in 2016. File photograph: Erick Luke/The Irish Times

Storm Gertrude hit Ireland in 2016. File photograph: Erick Luke/The Irish Times

 

New research is revealing why and how Europe is vulnerable to “explosive” and sustained weather events, a conference in Dublin has heard.

Speaking at the annual conference of the European Meteorological Society, Prof Rodrigo Caballero of Stockholm University noted 2014 was a very bad year for storm clusters and research into them could assist in long-term weather forecasting.

He outlined how in 2014 distinctive wave patterns in the atmosphere 35,000 feet above the north Atlantic Ocean caused an “intensified jet stream that was pointed directly at Europe”.

The jet stream is a fast-following air current that meanders around the Earth from west to east, and normally runs at around Ireland’s latitude.

Having analysed the 25 biggest storms to hit the core of Europe in 2014, Prof Caballero has charted the combined effects of stationary “Rossby waves” – believed to be caused by the Earth’s rotation – one north of the jet stream and another south of it, which changed the jet stream and generated “storm clusters” with enhanced rainfall in 2014.

This pattern of “storms in close succession” led to widespread flooding in the UK, while there is evidence to suggest extremely cold weather over North America was a contributory factor, he told the conference at DCU attended by 800 meteorologists and climatologists.

These combined weather events, which had some kind of relationship, had practical implications for insurers operating both in Europe and North America in terms of exposure they might be facing, he said.

The significance of this research, which suggests how extreme weather patterns get “locked in” for an extended period, cannot be over-estimated, said Dr Gerald Fleming, head of forecasting with Met Éireann, suggesting it could allow weather forecasters to predict “next month will be calm, wet or stormy”.

It would be especially important for Europe’s agriculture sector and emergency services, as it would be possible to anticipate sustained weather events in advance, he added.