The unusually dry conditions during the 2004/2005 winter in Portugal led to the development of an extreme/severe drought episode throughout the country with major socioeconomic impacts. In fact, at some locations, this winter was the driest in at least the last 60 years. A K-means classification of days into a set of five weather regimes (WRs), relevant for winter precipitation in Portugal, reveals a large prevalence of the two driest weather regimes during the 2004/2005 winter. These two regimes are basically linked to either anticyclonic circulation or easterly winds over Portugal and their prevalence explains the significant precipitation deficit. Winter precipitation variability in Portugal is indeed skillfully represented by linear models where the predictors are the frequencies of occurrence (FO) of these weather regimes. The dominance of the ‘dry phases’ of the main coupled modes between winter precipitation in Portugal and the large-scale atmospheric circulation also supports the prevalence of the dry regimes and the corresponding lack of precipitation.
The predominance of the dry regimes can be explained by a remarkably strong enhancement of the climate-mean North Atlantic ridge, manifested by dynamically coherent anomalies in the geopotential heights, vorticity and temperature fields over the North Atlantic. The persistence of a warm-core asymmetrical eddy over the North Atlantic, with a nearly barotropic equivalent structure, is a manifestation of this large-scale anomaly. The blocking of the westerlies and the consequent northward shift in the axis of maximum moisture transports over the North Atlantic was one of the most striking changes in the large-scale atmospheric flow. Consequently, the main track of the developing baroclinic disturbances was sufficiently distant from Portugal to hamper the development of rain-generating conditions. As these dynamical conditions are common to other reportedly dry winters, they effectively constitute a key factor for the occurrence of a precipitation deficit in Portugal. Copyright © 2006 Royal Meteorological Society