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Extreme weather at its worst: the heat and drought of AD 1540

31 Aug 2022 | Science Notes

From the CO2Science Archive: In conjunction with climate-alarmist claims of recent, current and predicted global warming, Wetter et al. (2014) say “it is predicted that heat waves in the future will be more intense, more frequent and longer lasting,” citing Meehl and Tebaldi (2004), Seneviratne et al. (2012) and Collins et al. (2013). However, they also note that “Wetter and Pfister (2013) demonstrated from a long series of grape harvest dates (AD 1444-2011) that April-July temperatures in 1540 both in France and Switzerland were likely significantly warmer than in 2003.” And to provide further evidence for the validity of this conclusion, they go on in this – their newest study – to “confirm these findings in a larger, European context.”

Paper reviewed: Wetter, O., Pfister, C., et al. 2014. The year-long unprecedented European heat and drought of 1540 - a worst case. Climatic Change 125: 349-363.

More specifically, as they describe it, the 32 researchers “address the intensity, persistence and impact of the 1540 drought using more than 300 documentary sources of weather reports, originating from Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, England, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland, that collectively represent an area of 2 to 3 million km2.” And what did this massive undertaking produce for them?

Wetter et al. say that (1) the annual number of days with precipitation in AD 1540 was “81% below the twentieth-century average and even 40% below the driest year since 1864,” that (2) “precipitation amount in Switzerland remained significantly below 100-year minimum levels in 1540 throughout the spring (MAM), summer (JJA) and autumn (SON),” that (3) “no similar event is documented within the instrumental period since 1864,” that (4) “in Poland the drought likewise persisted over three seasons,” that (5) in contrast to recent droughts, “the 1540 drought was significantly more persistent and extreme in any single month except January, thus resulting in a severe annual number of days with precipitation deficit,” and that (6) there was a “discharge deficit of about 90% for the rivers Rhine and Elbe,” along with (7) “the complete desiccation of smaller watercourses.”

And so we see there was nothing particularly unusual, unnatural or unprecedented about the 2003 heat waves and droughts of Western Europe and those of Russia in 2010, when there was way more CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere than there was back in 1540.

Collins, M., Knutti, R., Arblaster, J.M., Dufresne, J.L.,Fichelet, T., Friedlingstein, P., Gao, X., Gutowski, W.J., Johns, T., Krinner, G., Shongwe, M., Tebaldi, C., Weaver, A.J. and Wehner, M. 2013. Long-term climate change: Projections, commitments and irreversibility. In: Stocker, T.F., Qin, D., Plattner, G.-K., Tignor, M., Allen, S.K., Boschung, J., Nauels, A., Xia, Y., Bex, V. and Midgley, P.M. (Eds.). Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom.

Meehl, G.A. and Tebaldi, C. 2004. More intense, more frequent, and longer lasting heat waves in the 21st Century. Science 305: 994-997.

Seneviratne, S.I., Nicholls, D., Easterling, C.M., Goodess, S., Kanae, J., Kossin, Y., Luo, J., Marengo, K., McInnes, M., Rahimi, M., Reichstein, A., Sorteberg, , Vera, C. and Zhang, X. 2012. Changes in climate extremes and their impacts on the natural physical environment. In: Field, C.B., Barros, V., Stocker, T.F., Qin, D., Dokken, D.J., Ebi, K.L., Mastrandrea, M.D., Mach, K.J., Plattner, G.K., Allen, S.K., Tignor, M. and Midgley, P.M. (Eds.). A Special Report of Working Groups I and II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, pp. 109-230.

Wetter, O. and Pfister, C. 2013. An underestimated record breaking event - why summer 1540 was likely warmer than 2003. Climate of the Past 9: 41-56.

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