“Since the postwar period, there had never been a situation like this,” said Paride Antoline, the president of the Order of Geologists of Emilia Romagna, on RTVE. The figures are beginning to prove him right: at least nine people have died, several have disappeared and around 13,000 have had to be evacuated due to the floods that several regions of northern Italy have just suffered.
Historic floods. The storm, which had been monitored and alarmed for several days, has overflowed 14 rivers and caused widespread flooding in more than 30 municipalities. The rainfall has been truly exceptional, but it comes in a very specific context.
Generally speaking, Italy (like Spain, like the rest of Europe) was also suffering from a fairly deep drought. However, in the last couple of weeks that has changed radically. In May the rainfall is well above normal. “There are points where 500 l/m² are already exceeded so far this month. It is what on average usually falls in about 7-8 months,” explained Samuel Biener in Meteored.
That is, the water system was already heavily charged just when DANA broke over Italy. The rest is a drama.
Can this happen in Spain? In the short term, no. In the same way that Italian meteorologists have been warning for days of the arrival of this air mass (and of the exceptional rains it could bring); the models speak of storms and showers in mainland Spain, but nothing exceptional. On the contrary, what we are seeing is that, in a certain way, we are recovering the ‘normal’ patterns of spring in the country.
In the long term, however, is another matter.
European Academies Scientific Advisory Council (EASAC)
Climate change, friend. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has been insisting for years that “climate-related disasters” have increased since the 1970s. Counting extreme weather, climate and water events, we can say that in the 1980s there were 1,400 incidents while, in during the last one, they were close to 3,200.
It is clear to WMO that part of this increase is because we are now able to identify them better than before. However, he insists that the other key factor is “humanity’s influence on the climate, the warming of the oceans or heat waves.” In other words, as the Scientific Advisory Council of the European Academies pointed out in a report from a few years ago, everything seems to indicate that extreme weather events are going to be more frequent. I mean, we should start preparing.
Luckily, we are doing it. Perhaps not as fast as we would like, but the data is clear. During those same decades in which the number of disasters grew, there has been a very significant decrease in the number of victims.
And yet, we are always caught on the wrong foot. Because, although the DANAs or Cold Drops are something that is repeated many times throughout the year, there is always one that ends up causing torrential rains (and a general collapse) in the east of the Peninsula. How is it possible?
Well, because, as Emilio Rey, director of DigitalMeteo, reminded us, despite the fact that they are recurring phenomena, “people have a very short meteorological memory”. Citizens and administrations “think that it will not happen to them again until there is no turning back.”
The clearest example is rivers and torrents. “You can’t build on riverbeds,” said Rey. “In addition, you have to keep them clean and this means an effort that you may have to do in July or August, or every three months.” But it is not done. Not in Spain, not in Italy. And without long-term plans, it only remains to wait for the inevitable.
What can we learn from Italy? That the big weather event (with or without climate change) is always yet to come. And, precisely for this reason, we have to approach the construction of our societies and our infrastructures with this in mind. It is not easy, but the alternative (as we are seeing in Italy) is not easy either.
In Xataka | Torrential rains would be a good antidote to drought. The problem is that Spain does not know how to manage them
Image | DPC Gov