Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences (Dec 2022)

Droughts in Germany: performance of regional climate models in reproducing observed characteristics

  • D. Petrovic,
  • B. Fersch,
  • H. Kunstmann,
  • H. Kunstmann

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 22
pp. 3875 – 3895


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Droughts are among the most relevant natural disasters related to climate change. We evaluated different regional climate model outputs and their ability to reproduce observed drought indices in Germany and its near surroundings between 1980–2009. Both outputs of an ensemble of six EURO-CORDEX models of 12.5 km grid resolution and outputs from a high-resolution (5 km) Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) run were employed. The latter model was especially tailored for the study region regarding the physics configuration. We investigated drought-related variables and derived the 3-month standardized precipitation evapotranspiration index (SPEI-3) to account for meteorological droughts. Based on that, we analyzed correlations, the 2003 event, trends and drought characteristics (frequency, duration and severity) and compared the results to E-OBS. Methods used include Taylor diagrams, the Mann–Kendall trend test and the spatial efficiency (SPAEF) metric to account for spatial agreement of patterns. Averaged over the domain, meteorological droughts were found to occur approximately 16 times in the study period with an average duration of 3.1 months and average severity of 1.47 SPEI units. WRF's resolution and setup were shown to be less important for the reproduction of the single drought event and overall drought characteristics. Depending on the specific goals of drought analyses, computation resources could therefore be saved, since a coarser resolution can provide similar results. Benefits of WRF were found in the correlation analysis. The greatest benefits were identified in the trend analysis: only WRF was able to reproduce the observed negative SPEI trends to a fairly high spatial accuracy, while the other regional climate models (RCMs) completely failed in this regard. This was mainly due to the WRF model settings, highlighting the importance of appropriate model configuration tailored to the target region. Our findings are especially relevant in the context of climate change studies, where the appropriate reproduction of trends is of high importance.