Amplified Rossby waves enhance risk of concurrent heatwaves in major breadbasket regions

Kai Kornhuber, Dim Coumou, Elisabeth Vogel, Corey Lesk, Jonathan F. Donges, Jascha Lehmann, Radley M. Horton

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In an interconnected world, simultaneous extreme weather events in distant regions could potentially impose high-end risks for societies 1,2. In the mid-latitudes, circumglobal Rossby waves are associated with a strongly meandering jet stream and might cause simultaneous heatwaves and floods across the northern hemisphere 3–6. For example, in the summer of 2018, several heat and rainfall extremes occurred near-simultaneously 7. Here we show that Rossby waves with wavenumbers 5 and 7 have a preferred phase position and constitute recurrent atmospheric circulation patterns in summer. Those patterns can induce simultaneous heat extremes in specific regions: Central North America, Eastern Europe and Eastern Asia for wave 5, and Western Central North America, Western Europe and Western Asia for wave 7. The probability of simultaneous heat extremes in these regions increases by a factor of up to 20 for the most severe heat events when either of these two waves dominate the circulation. Two or more weeks per summer spent in the wave-5 or wave-7 regime are associated with 4% reductions in crop production when averaged across the affected regions, with regional decreases of up to 11%. As these regions are important for global food production, the identified teleconnections have the potential to fuel multiple harvest failures, posing risks to global food security 8.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)48-53
Number of pages6
JournalNature Climate Change
Issue number1
Early online date9 Dec 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020


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