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Storylines of UK drought based on the 2010-2012 event

Chan, W. C. H., Shepherd, T. G., Facer-Childs, K., Darch, G. and Arnell, N. W. (2022) Storylines of UK drought based on the 2010-2012 event. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, 26 (7). pp. 1755-1777. ISSN 1027-5606

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To link to this item DOI: 10.5194/hess-26-1755-2022


Spatially extensive multi-year hydrological droughts cause significant environmental stress. The UK is expected to remain vulnerable to future multi-year droughts under climate change. Existing approaches to quantify hydrological impacts of climate change often rely solely on GCM projections following different emission scenarios. This may miss out low probability events with significant impacts. As a means of exploring such events, physical climate storyline approaches aim to quantify physically coherent articulations of how observed events could hypothetically have unfolded in alternative ways. This study uses the 2010-2012 drought, the most recent period of severe hydrological drought in the UK, as a basis, and analyses storylines based on changes to 1) precondition severity, 2) temporal drought sequence, and 3) climate change. Evidence from multiple storylines shows that maximum intensity, mean deficit and duration of the 2010-2012 drought were highly influenced by its meteorological preconditions prior to drought inception, particularly for northern catchments at shorter time scales. The influence of progressively drier preconditions reflects both spatial variation in drought preconditions and the role of physical catchment characteristics, particularly hydrogeology in the propagation of multi-year droughts. Two plausible storylines of an additional dry year with dry winter conditions repeated either before the observed drought or replacing the observed dramatic drought termination confirm the vulnerability of UK catchments to a “three dry winter” storyline. Applying the UKCP18 climate projections, we find that drought conditions worsen with global warming with a mitigation of drought conditions by wetter winters in northern catchments at high warming levels. Comparison of the storylines with a benchmark drought (1975-76) and a protracted multi-year drought (1989-93) shows that for each storyline (including the climate change storylines), drought conditions could have matched and exceeded those experienced during the past droughts at catchments across the UK, particularly for southern catchments. The construction of storylines based on observed events can complement existing methods to stress test UK catchments against plausible unrealized droughts.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > Department of Meteorology
ID Code:104123


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