Amplification of mega-heatwaves through heat torrents fuelled by upwind drought

Dominik L. Schumacher*, Jessica Keune, Chiel C. Van Heerwaarden, Jordi Vilà-guerau De Arellano, Adriaan J. Teuling, Diego G. Miralles

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Mega-heatwaves are among the deadliest natural disasters in midlatitudes. During such events, the atmospheric circulation is typically governed by persistent anticyclones, enabling cloud-free conditions and advection of hot air. Dry soils in heatwave regions are also known to further contribute to the escalation of air temperatures. However, while local land–atmosphere feedbacks are well studied, the same does not apply to the influence of upwind areas, from where heat is advected. Here we investigate reanalysis data using a Lagrangian heat-tracking model to unravel the role of upwind land–atmosphere feedbacks during the two European mega-heatwaves of this century: the events in 2003 and 2010. Our analysis indicates that advected sensible heat can come in torrents, suddenly and intensely, leading to abrupt increases in air temperatures that further strengthen local land–atmosphere feedbacks via soil desiccation. During both mega-heatwaves, about 30% of the advected sensible heat was caused by the drought upwind. Since subtropical droughts are projected to aggravate during this century, in light of our results, this may be accompanied by consequent intensification of midlatitude mega-heatwaves. We therefore recommend considering not only local, but also upwind land cover and land-use management in the design of adaptation strategies against compound drought–heatwave events.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)712-717
JournalNature Geoscience
Publication statusPublished - 19 Aug 2019

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