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Winter Storm Klaus kills 26 in Europe

By: Dr. Jeff Masters, 8:20 PM GMT on January 26, 2009

Powerful Winter Storm Klaus, similar in strength to a Category 1 hurricane, brought high winds that killed at least 26 people in Spain, France, and Italy on Saturday. Wind gusts as high as 124 mph (199 km/hr) occurred along the northern coast of Spain, and Klaus had a central pressure of 967 mb at its peak on the morning of January 24. Sustained winds of 59 mph were measured at Santander, and wind gusts as high as 69 mph hit Barcelona, where a roof collapsed at a sports center, killing four children. Klaus knocked out power to at least 1.7 million people, and likely did hundreds of millions in damage to Spain and France. The storm caused extensive flooding in southern France, and toppled more than half of the trees in the regions of Gironde and Landes, one of Europe's largest forest areas. It was the worst storm to hit the region since Winter Storm Martin hit in December 1999, killing over 100 people in France and Spain.

A few top wind gusts in Spain from Winter Storm Klaus:

El Musel-Gijon (Asturias): 124 mph (199 km/hr)
Malpica (A Coruña): 114 mph (183 km/hr)
Ancares (Lugo): 113 mph (182 km/hr)
Gijon (Asturias): 104 mph (167 km/hr)

Figure 1. QuikScat image of Winter Storm Klaus approaching Spain at 19:08 GMT Friday January 23, 2009. Winds here suggest Klaus had winds similar to a Category 1 hurricane. Image credit: Paul Chang, NOAA.

Future European storm damage due to climate change
How European extratropical storms like Klaus might change in a world undergoing global warming is highly uncertain. A number of studies cited in the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report showed significant increases in the intensity and number of extratropical cyclones in recent years. However, the report notes that "as with tropical cyclones, detection of long-term changes in cyclones is hampered by incomplete and changing observing systems". Thus, we cannot tell at present if recent observed changes in extratropical storms are an indication of climate change.

The forecast is also murky. The 2007 IPCC report states, "Confidence in future changes in windiness in Europe remains relatively low....Several studies have suggested a decrease in the total number of cyclones in the Mediterranean Sea, but there is no agreement on whether the number of intense cyclones will increase or decrease".

It's of interest to note that Klaus was a relatively minor storm compared to some past storms that have affected South France. Over-wash deposits in a lagoon in the region were found by Sabatier et al. (2008) to point to Category 3 hurricane-strength winter storms hitting the region roughly once every 100 years. The most recent strikes were in 1839 and 1893.

Hurricane Ike relief efforts presentation
The portlight.org disaster relief charity will be presenting a summary of their Hurricane Ike relief efforts and plans for the future on Wednesday, January 28, at 8:20 am, at the Summerville, SC Kiwanis club. The portlight webcam will be running during the presentation, for those interested.

Jeff Masters
Here Comes
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Winter Weather

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.