New observational insights into the atmospheric circulation over the Euro-atlantic sector since 1685

Mellado-Cano J., Barriopedro D., García-Herrera R. Trigo R.M.
Climate Dynamics, 54, 823–841, DOI:

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Wind direction kept in ships’ logbooks is a consolidated but underexploited observational source of relevant climatic information. In this paper, we present four indices of the monthly frequency of wind direction, one for each cardinal direction: Northerly (NI), Easterly (EI), Southerly (SI) and Westerly (WI), based on daily wind direction observations taken aboard ships over the English Channel. These Directional Indices (DIs) are the longest observational record of atmospheric circulation to date at the daily scale, covering the 1685–2014 period. DIs anomalies are associated with near-surface climatic signals over large areas of Europe in all seasons, with zonal indices (WI and EI) and meridional indices (NI and SI) often affecting different regions. Statistical models including all DIs are able to explain a considerable amount of European climate variability, in most cases higher than that accounted for by the North Atlantic Oscillation. As such, the DIs are able to reproduce the known European climatic history and provide new insights of certain episodes from monthly to multi-decadal time scales such as the warm winter decade of 1730–1739 or the extremely cold 1902 summer. The DIs show the potential to better constrain the atmospheric circulation response to external forcings and its associated anomalies. In particular, we provide first observational evidences of all year-round atmospheric circulation signals following the strongest tropical volcanic eruptions of the last three centuries. These signatures are more complex than previously thought and suggest that the well-reported winter warming and summer cooling cannot be simply interpreted in terms of changes in zonality.