07 Nov 2023
 | 07 Nov 2023
Status: this preprint is open for discussion and under review for Weather and Climate Dynamics (WCD).

An extreme cold Central European winter such as 1963 is unlikely but still possible despite climate change

Sebastian Sippel, Clair Barnes, Camille Cadiou, Erich Fischer, Sarah Kew, Marlene Kretschmer, Sjoukje Philip, Theodore G. Shepherd, Jitendra Singh, Robert Vautard, and Pascal Yiou

Abstract. Central European winters have warmed markedly since the mid-20th century. Yet cold winters are still associated with severe societal impacts on energy systems, infrastructure and public health. It is therefore crucial to anticipate storylines of worst-case cold winter conditions, and to understand whether an extremely cold winter, such as the coldest winter in the historical record of Germany in 1963 (−6.3 °C or −3.4σ seasonal DJF temperature anomaly relative to 1981–2010), is still possible in a warming climate. Here, we first show based on multiple attribution methods that a winter of similar circulation conditions to 1963 would still lead to an extreme seasonal cold anomaly of about −4.9 to −4.7 °C (best estimates across methods) under present-day climate. This would rank as second-coldest winter in the last 75 years. Second, we conceive storylines of worst-case cold winter conditions based on two independent rare event sampling methods (climate model boosting and empirical importance sampling): winter as cold as 1963 is still physically possible in Central Europe today, albeit very unlikely. While cold winter hazards become less frequent and less intense in a warming climate overall, it remains crucial to anticipate the possibility of an extreme cold winter to avoid potential maladaptation and increased vulnerability.

Sebastian Sippel et al.

Status: open (until 26 Dec 2023)

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  • RC1: 'Comment on egusphere-2023-2523', Anonymous Referee #1, 23 Nov 2023 reply

Sebastian Sippel et al.

Sebastian Sippel et al.


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Short summary
Winter temperature in Central Europe have warmed. But cold winters can still cause problems for energy systems, infrastructure, or human health. Here we tested whether a record-cold winter, such as the one observed in 1963 over Central Europe, could still occur despite climate change. The answer is yes, it’s possible, but it’s very unlikely. Our results rely on climate model simulations and statistical rare event analysis. In conclusion, society must be prepared for such cold winters.