Amplified Rossby waves enhance risk of concurrent heatwaves in major breadbasket regions

Abstract

In an interconnected world, simultaneous extreme weather events in distant regions could potentially impose high-end risks for societies1,2. In the mid-latitudes, circumglobal Rossby waves are associated with a strongly meandering jet stream and might cause simultaneous heatwaves and floods across the northern hemisphere3,4,5,6. For example, in the summer of 2018, several heat and rainfall extremes occurred near-simultaneously7. Here we show that Rossby waves with wavenumbers 5 and 7 have a preferred phase position and constitute recurrent atmospheric circulation patterns in summer. Those patterns can induce simultaneous heat extremes in specific regions: Central North America, Eastern Europe and Eastern Asia for wave 5, and Western Central North America, Western Europe and Western Asia for wave 7. The probability of simultaneous heat extremes in these regions increases by a factor of up to 20 for the most severe heat events when either of these two waves dominate the circulation. Two or more weeks per summer spent in the wave-5 or wave-7 regime are associated with 4% reductions in crop production when averaged across the affected regions, with regional decreases of up to 11%. As these regions are important for global food production, the identified teleconnections have the potential to fuel multiple harvest failures, posing risks to global food security8.

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Fig. 1: Phase locking of Rossby waves.
Fig. 2: Circumglobal teleconnections and associated surface weather in summer.
Fig. 3: Coincidence of heatwaves in regions teleconnected by wave 5.
Fig. 4: Coincidences of heatwaves in regions teleconnected by wave 7.
Fig. 5: Crop production and teleconnected regions.

Data availability

The data used in this study can be obtained via the NCEP-NCAR website (https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/psd/data/gridded/data.ncep.reanalysis.html) and the FAOSTAT database of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (http://www.fao.org/faostat/en/#data/QC).

Code availability

The codes used are available on request.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the federal state of Brandenburg for the use of high-performance computing resources. This work was supported by the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS) and NERC grant nos NE/P006779/1 and NE/N018001/1 (K.K.), the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF; J.L. and D.C.), the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO; D.C.), the Leibniz Association project DominoES (J.F.D.) and the European Research Council Advanced Grant project ERA (J.F.D.).

Author information

K.K. conceived, designed and wrote the paper. K.K., E.V. and C.L. analysed the data. J.F.D., J.L., C.L., E.V., R.M.H. and D.C. helped with the design of the paper and co-wrote the manuscript.

Correspondence to Kai Kornhuber.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Nature Climate Change thanks Justin Mankin, Rachel White and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary data, methods, Figs. 1–16, Table 1 and references.

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Kornhuber, K., Coumou, D., Vogel, E. et al. Amplified Rossby waves enhance risk of concurrent heatwaves in major breadbasket regions. Nat. Clim. Chang. 10, 48–53 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-019-0637-z

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