Explosive development of winter storm Xynthia over the subtropical North Atlantic Ocean

Liberato M.L.R., Pinto J.G., Trigo R.M., Ludwig P., Ordóñez P., Yuen D., Trigo I.F.
Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences, 13, 2239-2251

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In winter of 2009–2010 south-western Europe was hit by several destructive windstorms. The most important was Xynthia (26–28 February 2010), which caused 64 reported casualties and was classified as the 2nd most expensive natural hazard event for 2010 in terms of economic losses. In this work we assess the synoptic evolution, dynamical characteristics and the main impacts of storm Xynthia, whose genesis, development and path were very uncommon. Wind speed gusts observed at more than 500 stations across Europe are evaluated as well as the wind gust field obtained with a regional climate model simulation for the entire North Atlantic and European area. Storm Xynthia was first identified on 25 February around 30 N, 50W over the subtropical North Atlantic Ocean. Its genesis occurred on a region characterized by warm and moist air under the influence of a strong upper level wave embedded in the westerlies. Xynthia followed an unusual SW-NE path towards Iberia, France and central Europe. The role of moist air masses on the explosive development of Xynthia is analysed by considering the evaporative sources. A lagrangian model is used to identify the moisture sources, sinks and moisture transport associated with the cyclone during its development phase. The main supply of moisture is located over an elongated region of the subtropical North Atlantic Ocean with anomalously high SST, confirming that the explosive development of storm Xynthia had a significant contribution from the subtropics.