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Rescuing historical weather observations improves quantification of severe windstorm risks

Hawkins, E. ORCID:, Brohan, P., Burgess, S. N., Burt, S. ORCID:, Compo, G. P. ORCID:, Gray, S. L. ORCID:, Haigh, I. D., Hersbach, H. ORCID:, Kuijjer, K., Martinez-Alvarado, O. ORCID:, McColl, C., Schurer, A. P. ORCID:, Slivinski, L. and Williams, J. ORCID: (2023) Rescuing historical weather observations improves quantification of severe windstorm risks. Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences, 23 (4). pp. 1465-1482. ISSN 1684-9981

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To link to this item DOI: 10.5194/nhess-23-1465-2023


Billions of historical climatological observations remain unavailable to science as they exist only on paper, stored in numerous archives around the world. The conversion of these data from paper to digital could transform our understanding of historical climate variations, including extreme weather events. Here we demonstrate how the rescue of such paper observations has improved our understanding of a severe windstorm that occurred in February 1903 and its significant impacts. By assimilating newly rescued atmospheric pressure observations, the storm is now credibly represented in an improved reanalysis of the event. In some locations this storm produced stronger winds than any event during the modern period (1950–2015) and it is in the top-4 storms for strongest winds anywhere over land in England and Wales. As a result, estimates of risk from severe storms, based on modern period data, may need to be revised. Examining the atmospheric structure of the storm suggests that it is a classic Shapiro–Keyser-type cyclone with “sting-jet” precursors and associated extreme winds at locations and times of known significant damage. Comparison with both independent observations and qualitative information, such as photographs and written accounts, provides additional evidence of the credibility of the atmospheric reconstruction, including sub-daily rainfall variations. Simulations of the storm surge resulting from this storm show a large coastal surge of around 2.5 m, comparing favourably with newly rescued tide gauge observations and adding to our confidence in the reconstruction. Combining historical rescued weather observations with modern reanalysis techniques has allowed us to plausibly reconstruct a severe windstorm and associated storm surge from more than 100 years ago, establishing an invaluable end-to-end tool to improve assessments of risks from extreme weather.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > NCAS
Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > Department of Meteorology
ID Code:111770


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