21 Apr 2021

21 Apr 2021

Review status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal CP.

The 1921 European drought: Impacts, reconstruction and drivers

Gerard van der Schrier1, Richard P. Allan2, Albert Ossó3, Pedro M. Sousa10, Hans Van de Vyver4, Bert Van Schaeybroeck4, Roberto Coscarelli5, Angela A. Pasqua5, Olga Petrucci5, Mary Curley6, Mirosław Mietus7, Janusz Filipiak8, Petr Štěpánek9, Pavel Zahradníček9, Rudolf Brázdil9,10, Ladislava Řezníčková9,10, Else J. M. van den Besselaar1, Ricardo Trigo11, and Enric Aguilar12 Gerard van der Schrier et al.
  • 1Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, De Bilt, the Netherlands
  • 2University of Reading, United Kingdom
  • 3Wegener Center for Climate and Global Change, University of Graz, Austria
  • 4Royal Meteorological Institute, Uccle, Belgium
  • 5National Research Council of Itly, Research Institute for Geo-Hydrological Protection CNR-IRPI, Rende, Italy
  • 6Met Éireann, Dublin, Ireland
  • 7Institute of Meteorology and Water Management, Warsaw, Poland
  • 8Department of Meteorology and Climatology, Institute of Geography, Faculty of Oceanography and Geography, University of Gdańsk, Gdańsk, Poland
  • 9Global Change Research Institute, Brno, Czech Republic
  • 10Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic
  • 11Instituto Dom Luiz (IDL), Faculdade de Ciências, Universidade de Lisboa, 1749-016 Lisboa, Portugal
  • 12Center for Climate Change (C3), Universtitat Rovira i Virgili, Tarragona, Spain

Abstract. 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 (rescued) meteorological measurements to quantify the drought severity and extent, and reanalysis data is 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. Preceeding 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 heat wave 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 wide-spread drought in Europe since the start of the 20th century. While none of the seasons in 1920 and 1921 tops the scale of having the largest precipitation deficit on record, the conservative nature of drought amplifies the lack of precipitation in autumn and winter into the following spring and summer.

Gerard van der Schrier et al.

Status: open (until 16 Jun 2021)

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Gerard van der Schrier et al.

Gerard van der Schrier et al.


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Short summary
The 1921 drought is the most severe European drought since 1900. Its impacts on society and the physical characteristics are described using newly recovered meteorological observations and a survey from newspapers reports. Finally, the drivers of the drought are analysed. While none of the seasons in 1920 and 1921 tops the scale of having the largest precipitation deficit on record, the conservative nature of drought amplifies the lack of rain in late 1920 into the 1921 spring and summer.