Heat extremes in Western Europe increasing faster than simulated due to atmospheric circulation trends

Les extrêmes de chaleur en Europe occidentale augmentent plus rapidement que prévu en raison des tendances de la circulation atmosphérique

Vautard, Robert ; Cattiaux, Julien ; Happé, Tamara ; Singh, Jitendra ; Bonnet, Rémy ; Cassou, Christophe ; Coumou, Dim ; D'Andrea, Fabio ; Faranda, Davide ; Fischer, Erich ; Ribes, Aurélien ; Sippel, Sebastian ; Yiou, Pascal

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<p align=justify>Over the last 70 years, extreme heat has been increasing at a disproportionate rate in Western Europe, compared to climate model simulations. This mismatch is not well understood. Here, we show that a substantial fraction (0.8 °C [0.2°−1.4 °C] of 3.4 °C per global warming degree) of the heat extremes trend is induced by atmospheric circulation changes, through more frequent southerly flows over Western Europe. In the 170 available simulations from 32 different models that we analyzed, including 3 large model ensembles, none have a circulation-induced heat trend as large as observed. This can be due to underestimated circulation response to external forcing, or to a systematic underestimation of low-frequency variability, or both. The former implies that future projections are too conservative, the latter that we are left with deep uncertainty regarding the pace of future summer heat in Europe. This calls for caution when interpreting climate projections of heat extremes over Western Europe, in view of adaptation to heat waves.</p>
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