27 Oct 2022
 | 27 Oct 2022

Rescuing historical weather observations improves quantification of severe windstorm risks

Ed Hawkins, Philip Brohan, Samantha Burgess, Stephen Burt, Gilbert Compo, Suzanne Gray, Ivan Haigh, Hans Hersbach, Kiki Kuijjer, Oscar Martinez-Alvarado, Chesley McColl, Andrew Schurer, Laura Slivinski, and Joanne Williams

Abstract. Billions of historical climatological observations remain unavailable to science as they exist only on paper, stored in numerous archives around the world. The conversion of these data from paper to digital could transform our understanding of historical climate variations, including extreme weather events. Here we demonstrate how the rescue of such paper observations has improved our understanding of a severe windstorm that occurred in February 1903 and its significant impacts. By assimilating newly rescued atmospheric pressure observations, the storm is now credibly represented in an improved reanalysis of the event. In some locations this storm produced stronger winds than any event during the modern period (1950–2015) and it is in the top-4 storms for strongest winds anywhere over land in England & Wales. As a result, estimates of risk from severe storms, based on modern period data, may need to be revised. Examining the atmospheric structure of the storm suggests that it is a classic Shapiro-Keyser-type cyclone with ‘sting jet’ precursors and associated extreme winds at locations and times of known significant damage. Comparison with both independent observations and qualitative information, such as photographs and written accounts, provides additional evidence of the credibility of the atmospheric reconstruction, including of sub-daily rainfall variations. Simulations of the storm surge resulting from this storm show a large coastal surge of around 2.5 m, comparing favourably with newly rescued tide gauge observations and adding to our confidence in the reconstruction. Combining historical rescued weather observations with modern reanalysis techniques has allowed us to plausibly reconstruct a severe windstorm and associated storm surge from more than 100 years ago, establishing an invaluable end-to-end tool to improve assessments of risks from extreme weather.

Ed Hawkins et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on egusphere-2022-1045', Anonymous Referee #1, 21 Nov 2022
  • RC2: 'Comment on egusphere-2022-1045', Anonymous Referee #2, 21 Nov 2022
  • RC3: 'Comment on egusphere-2022-1045', Anonymous Referee #3, 24 Nov 2022

Ed Hawkins et al.


Total article views: 1,326 (including HTML, PDF, and XML)
HTML PDF XML Total Supplement BibTeX EndNote
1,098 205 23 1,326 41 6 6
  • HTML: 1,098
  • PDF: 205
  • XML: 23
  • Total: 1,326
  • Supplement: 41
  • BibTeX: 6
  • EndNote: 6
Views and downloads (calculated since 27 Oct 2022)
Cumulative views and downloads (calculated since 27 Oct 2022)

Viewed (geographical distribution)

Total article views: 1,327 (including HTML, PDF, and XML) Thereof 1,327 with geography defined and 0 with unknown origin.
Country # Views %
  • 1
Latest update: 21 Mar 2023
Short summary
We examine a severe windstorm that occurred in February 1903 and caused significant damage in the UK & Ireland. Using newly digitised weather observations from the time of the storm, combined with a modern weather forecast model, allows us to determine why this storm caused so much damage. We demonstrate that this event is one of the most severe windstorms to affect this region since detailed records began. This approach establishes a new tool to improve assessments of risk from extreme weather.