Mohr, S., Wilhelm, J., Wandel, J., Kunz, M., Portmann, R., Punge, H. J., Schmidberger, M., and Grams, C. M. (2020): The role of large-scale dynamics in an exceptional sequence of severe thunderstorms in Europe May/June 2018, Weather Clim. Dynam. Discuss., in review, doi:10.5194/wcd-2020-1.
Over three weeks in May and June 2018, an exceptionally large number of thunderstorms hit vast parts of western and central Europe, causing precipitation of up to 80 mm and several flash floods. During this time, the large-scale atmospheric circulation, which was characterized by a blocking situation over northern Europe, influenced atmospheric conditions relevant for thunderstorm development. Initially, the southwesterly flow on the western flank of the blocking anticyclone induced the advection of warm, moist, and unstably stratified air masses. Due to a low-pressure gradient associated with the blocking anticyclone, these air masses were trapped in western and central Europe, remained almost stationary and prevented a significant air mass exchange. In addition, the low-pressure gradient led to weak flow conditions in the mid-troposphere and thus to low vertical wind shear that prevented thunderstorms from developing into severe organized systems. Most of the storms formed as local-scale, relatively slow-moving single cells. However, due to the related weak propagation speed, several thunderstorms were able to produce torrential heavy rain that affected local-scale areas and triggered several flash floods.
Atmospheric blocking also increased the upper-level cut-off low frequency on its upstream regions, which was up to 10 times higher than the climatological mean. Together with filaments of positive potential vorticity (PV), the cut-offs served as trigger mechanisms for a majority of the thunderstorms. For the 22-day study period, we found that more than 50 % of lightning strikes can be linked to a nearby cut-off low or PV filament. The exceptional persistence of low stability combined with weak wind speed in the mid-troposphere over three weeks has not been observed during the past 30 years.