The 1921 European drought: Impacts, reconstruction and drivers

van der Schrier G., Allan, R.P. , Osso, A., Sousa P.M., Van de Vyver H., Van Schaeybroeck B., Coscarelli R., Pasqua A.A., Petrucci O., Curley M., Mietus M., Filipiak J., Št?pánek P., Zahradní?ek P., Brázdil R., ?ezní?ková L., van den Besselaar E.J.M., Trigo R. and Aguilar E.
Climate of the Past, 17, 2201-2221. DOI: 10.5194/cp-17-2201-2021

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The European drought of 1921 is assessed in terms of its impacts on society and in terms of its physical characteristics. The development of impacts of the drought are categorized by a systematic survey of newspaper reports from five European newspapers covering the area from England to the Czech Republic and other parts of Europe. This is coupled to a reconstruction of daily temperature and precipitation based on meteorological measurements to quantify the drought severity and extent, and reanalysis data are used to identify its drivers. This analysis shows that the first impacts of the drought started to appear in early spring and lingered on until well into autumn and winter, affecting water supply and agriculture and livestock farming. The dominant impact in western Europe is on agriculture and livestock farming while in central Europe the effects of wildfires were reported on most often. The peak in the number of reports is in late summer. Preceding the first impacts was the dry autumn of 1920 and winter 1920–1921. The area hardest hit by the drought in the following spring and summer was the triangle between Brussels, Paris and Lyon, but a vast stretch of the continent, from Ireland to the Ukraine, was affected. The reported impacts on water supply and water-borne transport in that region were matched by an analysis of the hydrological situation over the Seine catchment. On average, the 1921 summer was not particularly hot, but the heatwave which was observed at the end of July saw temperatures matching those of the heatwaves in modern summers. Similar to modern droughts, an anticyclone was present roughly over the British Isles, maintaining sunny and dry weather in Europe and steering away cyclones to the north. Its persistence makes it exceptional in comparison to modern droughts. The 1921 drought stands out as the most severe and most widespread drought in Europe since the start of the 20th century. The precipitation deficit in all seasons was large, but in none of the seasons in 1920 and 1921 was the precipitation deficit the largest on record. The severity of the 1921 drought relates to the conservative nature of drought which amplifies the lack of precipitation in autumn and winter into the following spring and summer.