17 Oct 2023
 | 17 Oct 2023
Status: this preprint is open for discussion and under review for Climate of the Past (CP).

Extreme springs in Switzerland since 1763 in climate and phenological indices

Noemi Imfeld, Koen Hufkens, and Stefan Brönnimann

Abstract. Historical sources report manifold on hazardous past climate and weather events that had considerable impacts on society. Studying changes in the occurrence or mechanisms behind such events is, however, hampered by a lack of spatially and temporally complete weather data. Especially, the spring season has received less attention in comparison to summer and winter, but is nevertheless relevant since weather conditions in spring can delay vegetation and create substantial damage due to for example late frost events. For Switzerland, we created a daily high-resolution (1x1 km2) reconstruction of temperature and precipitation fields from 1763 to 1960, that forms together with present-day meteorological fields a 258-year-long gridded data set. With this data set, we study changes in longer-term climate and historical weather events based on climate and phenological indices focusing on the spring season.

Climate and phenological indices show few changes in the mean during the first 200 years, but climate change signals clearly emerge in all indices in the most recent period. We evaluate the climate and phenological indices for three cases of extreme spring weather conditions, an unusually warm spring, two late frost events, and three cold springs. Warm springs are much more frequent in the 21st century, but also in 1862 a very warm and early spring occurred. Spring temperatures, however, do not agree on how anomalously warm the spring was when comparing the Swiss reconstruction with reanalyses that extend back to 1868. The three springs of 1785, 1837, and 1853, were particularly cold with historical sources reporting for example prolonged lake freezing and abundant snowfall. Whereas the springs of 1837 and 1853 were characterized by cold and wet conditions, in the spring of 1785 wet-days were below average and, in particular, in the Swiss Plateau, frost days reached an all-time maximum. Such inversion conditions are confirmed by mostly north-easterly and high pressure weather types and historical sources describing prolonged Bise conditions. Studying such historical events is valuable since similar atmospheric conditions can also nowadays lead to cold springs affecting vegetation growth and agricultural production. 

Noemi Imfeld et al.

Status: open (until 12 Dec 2023)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on egusphere-2023-2229', Anonymous Referee #1, 10 Nov 2023 reply
  • RC2: 'Comment on egusphere-2023-2229', Anonymous Referee #2, 15 Nov 2023 reply
  • RC3: 'Comment on egusphere-2023-2229', Neil Macdonald, 23 Nov 2023 reply

Noemi Imfeld et al.

Data sets

Daily gridded temperature, precipitation, and phenological indices for Switzerland from 1763 to 2020 Noemi Imfeld, Koen Hufkens, Stefan Brönnimann

Model code and software

swiss indices Noemi Imfeld

Noemi Imfeld et al.


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Short summary

Climate and weather in spring are important because they can have far-reaching impacts, e.g., on plant growth due to cold spells. Here, we study changes in climate and phenological indices for the period 1763–2020 based on newly published reconstructed fields of daily temperature and precipitation for Switzerland. We look at three cases of extreme spring conditions, namely, a warm spring in 1862, two frost events in 1873 and 1957, and three cold springs in 1785, 1837, and 1852.