Circulation Weather Types and their impact on the precipitation regime in Portugal

Trigo R.M., DaCamara C.C.
Int J of Climatology, 20, 1559-1581

Download PDF


An objective classification scheme of the atmospheric circulation affecting Portugal, between 1946 and 1990, is presented, where daily circulation is characterized through the use of a set of indices associated with the direction and vorticity of the geostrophic flow. The synoptic characteristics and the frequency of ten basic circulation weather types (CWTs) are discussed, as well as the amount of precipitation associated with each type between 1957 and 1986. It is shown that the anticyclonic (A) type, although being the most frequent class in winter (37%), gives a rather small (less then 16%) contribution to the winter precipitation amount, observed on a daily basis. On the other hand, the three wettest CWTs, namely the cyclonic (C), southwesterly (SW) and westerly (W) types, together representing only 32% of all winter days, account for more than 62% of the observed daily precipitation. Results obtained highlight the existence of strong links between the interannual variability of monthly precipitation and interannual variability of CWTs. Multiple regression models, developed for 18 stations, show the ability of modelling monthly winter precipitation through the exclusive use, as predictors, of the wet CWTs (i.e. C, SW and W). The observed decreasing trend of March precipitation is also analysed and shown to be especially associated with the decrease of the three wet weather types. The anomalous low (high) frequency of wet CWTs during the hydrological year is shown to be strongly related with the occurrence of extreme dry (wet) years in Portugal, which had important impacts on Portuguese agriculture. Overall, the results suggest that the precipitation regime over Portugal, including interannual variability, trends and extremes, may be adequately explained in terms of variability of a fairly small number of circulation weather patterns. On the other hand, observed contrasts in the spatial distribution of correlations between frequency of wet CWTs and rainfall amounts suggest that precipitation regimes are of a different nature in northern and southern regions of Portugal; the former possessing an orographic origin and the latter being associated to cyclogenetic activity. Copyright 2000 Royal Meteorological Society.