Mohr, S., Wilhelm, J., Wandel, J., Kunz, M., Portmann, R., Punge, H. J., Schmidberger, M., Quinting, J. F., 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.., 1, 325–348, doi:10.5194/wcd-1-325-2020.
Over 3 weeks in May and June 2018, an exceptionally large number of thunderstorms hit vast parts of western and central Europe, causing precipitation accumulations of up to 80 mm within 1 h and several flash floods. This study examines the conditions and processes that made this particular thunderstorm episode exceptional, with a particular focus on the interaction of processes across scales.
During the episode, a blocking situation persisted over northern Europe. 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 the 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 weak geopotential height gradients led to predominantly weak flow conditions in the mid-troposphere and thus to low vertical wind shear that prevented thunderstorms from developing into severe organized systems. Due to a weak propagation speed in combination with high rain rates, several thunderstorms were able to accumulate enormous amounts of precipitation that affected local-scale areas and triggered several torrential 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 provided the mesoscale setting for the development of a large number of thunderstorms. During the 22 d study period, more than 50 % of lightning strikes can be linked to a nearby cut-off low or PV filament. The exceptionally persistent low stability over 3 weeks combined with a weak wind speed in the mid-troposphere has not been observed during the past 30 years.