Articles | Volume 10, issue 5
20 May 2010
 | 20 May 2010

Characterisation of extreme winter precipitation in Mediterranean coastal sites and associated anomalous atmospheric circulation patterns

A. Toreti, E. Xoplaki, D. Maraun, F. G. Kuglitsch, H. Wanner, and J. Luterbacher

Abstract. We present an analysis of daily extreme precipitation events for the extended winter season (October–March) at 20 Mediterranean coastal sites covering the period 1950–2006. The heavy tailed behaviour of precipitation extremes and estimated return levels, including associated uncertainties, are derived applying a procedure based on the Generalized Pareto Distribution, in combination with recently developed methods. Precipitation extremes have an important contribution to make seasonal totals (approximately 60% for all series). Three stations (one in the western Mediterranean and the others in the eastern basin) have a 5-year return level above 100 mm, while the lowest value (estimated for two Italian series) is equal to 58 mm. As for the 50-year return level, an Italian station (Genoa) has the highest value of 264 mm, while the other values range from 82 to 200 mm. Furthermore, six series (from stations located in France, Italy, Greece, and Cyprus) show a significant negative tendency in the probability of observing an extreme event. The relationship between extreme precipitation events and the large scale atmospheric circulation at the upper, mid and low troposphere is investigated by using NCEP/NCAR reanalysis data. A 2-step classification procedure identifies three significant anomaly patterns both for the western-central and eastern part of the Mediterranean basin. In the western Mediterranean, the anomalous southwesterly surface to mid-tropospheric flow is connected with enhanced moisture transport from the Atlantic. During ≥5-year return level events, the subtropical jet stream axis is aligned with the African coastline and interacts with the eddy-driven jet stream. This is connected with enhanced large scale ascending motions, instability and leads to the development of severe precipitation events. For the eastern Mediterranean extreme precipitation events, the identified anomaly patterns suggest warm air advection connected with anomalous ascent motions and an increase of the low- to mid-tropospheric moisture. Furthermore, the jet stream position (during ≥5-year return level events) supports the eastern basin being in a divergence area, where ascent motions are favoured. Our results contribute to an improved understanding of daily precipitation extremes in the cold season and associated large scale atmospheric features.