Articles | Volume 13, issue 7
Research article
04 Jul 2013
Research article |  | 04 Jul 2013

Synoptic climatology of winter intense precipitation events along the Mediterranean coasts

M. Reale and P. Lionello

Abstract. The link between winter (December-January-February) precipitation events at 15 Mediterranean coastal locations and synoptic features (cyclones and Northern Hemisphere teleconnection patterns) is analyzed. A list of precipitation events has been produced; q percentile thresholds (Thq) and corresponding frequency Nq (for q equal to 25, 50, 90 and 98) have been considered. A negative trend has been detected in total precipitation and N50 at many locations, while no significant trend in N25, N90 and N98 has been found. The negative phase of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) and the East Atlantic/West Russia pattern (EAWR) compete for exerting the largest influence on the frequency of the 25th, 50th and 90th percentiles, with EAWR and NAO exerting their largest influence in the central and western Mediterranean areas, respectively. All percentiles show a similar behavior except for the 98th percentile, which shows no convincing link to any teleconnection pattern. The cyclone tracks that are associated with precipitation events have been selected using the ERA-40 reanalysis data, and a strong link between intense precipitation and cyclones is shown for all stations. In general, the probability of detecting a cyclone within a distance of 20° from each station increases with the intensity of the precipitation event and decreases with the duration of a dry period. The origin and track of cyclones producing intense precipitation differ among different areas. When precipitation occurs in the northwestern Mediterranean, cyclones are generally either of Atlantic origin or secondary cyclones associated with the passage of major cyclones north of the Mediterranean Basin, while they are mostly generated inside the region itself for events at the eastern Mediterranean coast. An important fraction of intense events in the southern areas is produced by cyclones that are generated over northern Africa. The analysis of sea level pressure and geopotential height at 500 hPa highlights the important role of cyclone depth, circulation strength, surrounding synoptic condition, and of slow speed of the cyclone center for producing intense precipitation events.