Articles | Volume 8, issue 1
Research article
24 Feb 2012
Research article |  | 24 Feb 2012

Extreme climate, not extreme weather: the summer of 1816 in Geneva, Switzerland

R. Auchmann, S. Brönnimann, L. Breda, M. Bühler, R. Spadin, and A. Stickler

Abstract. We analyze weather and climate during the "Year without Summer" 1816 using sub-daily data from Geneva, Switzerland, representing one of the climatically most severely affected regions. The record includes twice daily measurements and observations of air temperature, pressure, cloud cover, wind speed, and wind direction as well as daily measurements of precipitation. Comparing 1816 to a contemporary reference period (1799–1821) reveals that the coldness of the summer of 1816 was most prominent in the afternoon, with a shift of the entire distribution function of temperature anomalies by 3–4 °C. Early morning temperature anomalies show a smaller change for the mean, a significant decrease in the variability, and no changes in negative extremes. Analyzing cloudy and cloud-free conditions separately suggests that an increase in the number of cloudy days was to a significant extent responsible for these features. A daily weather type classification based on pressure, pressure tendency, and wind direction shows extremely anomalous frequencies in summer 1816, with only one day (compared to 20 in an average summer) classified as high-pressure situation but a tripling of low-pressure situations. The afternoon temperature anomalies expected from only a change in weather types was much stronger negative in summer 1816 than in any other year. For precipitation, our analysis shows that the 80% increase in summer precipitation compared to the reference period can be explained by 80% increase in the frequency of precipitation, while no change could be found neither in the average intensity of precipitation nor in the frequency distribution of extreme precipitation. In all, the analysis shows that the regional circulation and local cloud cover played a dominant role. It also shows that the summer of 1816 was an example of extreme climate, not extreme weather.