Analysis of synoptic weather patterns of heatwave events

Sergi Ventura, Josep Ramon Miró, Juan Carlos Peña, Gara Villalba

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Heatwaves (HWs) are expected to increase both in duration and intensity in the next decades, but little is known about their synoptic and mesoscalar behavior, which is especially important in mid-latitude regions. Most climate research has focused on temperature analysis to characterize HWs. We propose that a combination of temperature and synoptic patterns is a better way to define and understand HWs because including atmospheric circulation patterns provides information about different HW structures that can irregularly affect the territory, and illustrate this approach at the regional and urban scales using the Iberian Peninsula and the Metropolitan Area of Barcelona as case studies. We first select HW events from 1950 to 2020 and apply a multivariate analysis to identify synoptic patterns based on mean sea level pressure, geopotential height at 500 hPa, and maximum daily 2 m temperature. The results indicate that four synoptic patterns reproduce at least 50% of the variance in HWs, namely, “stationary and stable”, “dynamic and advective”, “stationary and advective”, and “dynamic, advective and undulated”. Next, we apply the analysis to the Representative Concentration Pathway future scenarios (RCPs) 4.5 and 8.5 from the Coordinated Regional Climate Downscaling Experiment (CORDEX) to determine how these synoptic trends can change in the future. The analysis shows that the four synoptic patterns continue to explain 55 to 60% of the variance in HWs. Future HW events will be characterized by an increase in geopotential height at 500 hPa due to the northward shift of the anticyclonic ridge. This is especially true for RCP8.5, which simulates business as usual incrementing fossil fuel use and additionally shows an increase in atmospheric dynamism in north advections from all directions in comparison with RCP4.5. These findings point to the importance of considering the geopotential height in HW prediction, as well as the direction of advections
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4679-4702
Number of pages24
JournalClimate Dynamics
Issue number9-10
Early online date19 May 2023
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2023


  • Climatic trends
  • ERA5 reanalysis
  • Heatwaves
  • Multivariate analysis


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