Original paper

Weather patterns and hydro-climatological precursors of extreme floods in Switzerland since 1868

Stucki, Peter; Rickli, Ralph; Brönnimann, Stefan; Martius, Olivia; Wanner, Heinz; Grebner, Dietmar; Luterbacher, Jürg

Meteorologische Zeitschrift Vol. 21 No. 6 (2012), p. 531 - 550

70 references

published: Dec 1, 2012

DOI: 10.1127/0941-2948/2012/368

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The generation of 24 extreme floods in large catchments of the central Alps is analyzed from instrumental and documentary data, newly digitized observations of precipitation (DigiHom) and 20th Century Reanalysis (20CR) data. Extreme floods are determined by the 95th percentile of differences between an annual flood and a defined contemporary flood. For a selection of six events between 1868 and 1910, we describe preconditioning elements such as precipitation, temperature, and snow cover anomalies. Specific weather patterns are assessed through a subjective analysis of three-dimensional atmospheric circulation. A focus is placed on synoptic-scale features including mid-tropospheric ascent, low-level moisture transport, propagation of cyclones, and temperature anomalies. We propose a hydro-meteorological classification of all 24 investigated events according to flood-generating weather conditions. Key elements of the upper-level synoptic-scale flow are summarized by five types: (i) pivoting cut-off lows, (ii) elongated cut-off lows, (iii) elongated troughs, (iv) waves (with a kink), and (v) approximately zonal flow over the Alpine region. We found that the most extreme floods (as above, but ≥ 98th percentile) in Switzerland since 1868 were caused by the interaction of severe hydro-climatologic conditions with a flood-inducing weather situation. The 20CR data provide plausible synoptic-scale meteorological patterns leading to heavy precipitation. The proposed catalogue of weather patterns and hydro-climatologic precursors can give direction when anticipating the possibility of severe floods in the Alpine region.


extreme flood eventscentral alpsswitzerlandhydro-meteorological, climatological case studiesweather pattern classificationatmospheric precursorsextreme hochwasserereignisseschweizalpenfallstudienwetter muster klassifikation