Amplification of mega-heatwaves through heat torrents fuelled by upwind drought

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Abstract

Mega-heatwaves are among the deadliest natural disasters in midlatitudes. During such events, the atmospheric circulation is typically governed by persistent anticyclones, enabling cloud-free conditions and advection of hot air. Dry soils in heatwave regions are also known to further contribute to the escalation of air temperatures. However, while local land–atmosphere feedbacks are well studied, the same does not apply to the influence of upwind areas, from where heat is advected. Here we investigate reanalysis data using a Lagrangian heat-tracking model to unravel the role of upwind land–atmosphere feedbacks during the two European mega-heatwaves of this century: the events in 2003 and 2010. Our analysis indicates that advected sensible heat can come in torrents, suddenly and intensely, leading to abrupt increases in air temperatures that further strengthen local land–atmosphere feedbacks via soil desiccation. During both mega-heatwaves, about 30% of the advected sensible heat was caused by the drought upwind. Since subtropical droughts are projected to aggravate during this century, in light of our results, this may be accompanied by consequent intensification of midlatitude mega-heatwaves. We therefore recommend considering not only local, but also upwind land cover and land-use management in the design of adaptation strategies against compound drought–heatwave events.

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Fig. 1: Summer temperatures and heat budget for the region affected by the 2010 event.
Fig. 2: Origins of the sensible heat anomaly during the 2010 mega-heatwave.
Fig. 3: Downwind propagation of compound drought–heatwave events.

Data availability

ERA-Interim data were accessed from http://apps.ecmwf.int/datasets. ESA-CCI data were accessed from https://www.esa-soilmoisture-cci.org. GLEAM data are available through https://www.gleam.eu/. MSWEP data are available through http://www.gloh2o.org/. The FLEXPART model can be downloaded via https://www.flexpart.eu/. FLEXPART data are available upon request from the corresponding author.

Code availability

Python scripts are available upon request from the corresponding author.

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Acknowledgements

The authors acknowledge support from the European Research Council (ERC) under grant agreement no. 715254 (DRY–2–DRY). We also thank L. Gimeno and R. Nieto for their support related to FLEXPART. The computational resources and services used in this work were provided by the VSC (Flemish Supercomputer Center), funded by the Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO) and the Flemish Government, Department of Economy, Science and Innovation (EWI).

Author information

D.G.M. and D.L.S. conceived the study. D.L.S, D.G.M., J.K. and C.C.v.H. designed the experiments. D.L.S. conducted the analysis. J.K. provided the FLEXPART simulations. D.L.S., D.G.M. and J.K. wrote the paper. All authors contributed to the interpretation and discussion of the results and the editing of the manuscript.

Correspondence to Dominik L. Schumacher.

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