Southern Europe burns, temperatures have been above 40 degrees for days. In Spain it was 43 and in Portugal on Thursday it reached 47. In the north it will be around 40 at the beginning of the week.
Thousands of hectares burn in Portugal, Greece, Spain, Italy or the south of France while the European Commission warns that the lack of rain in recent months can cause forest fires even in countries like Belgium, the Netherlands or Germany. In the Po Valley, in northern Italy, practically no rain in more than 200 days. Italy declared a state of emergency.
The great rivers of Europe have low flows and many small tributaries are just a trickle of water. According to the Copernicus Climate Change Service (the European satellite agency) the continent is “in an unprecedented drought”.
The UK Meteorological Office issued this past weekend the first “red alert” in its history. This beginning of the week the highs in London will be around 40 degrees and the British Air Force suspended flights at its largest military base because the asphalt melts.
Smoke in Louchats, 35 km from Landiras, in Gironde, south-west France. AP Photo
Beyond the burned territories and the fatalities – there are already several among the forest firefighting teams – the heat and the heat of recent months, one of the most serious since there are reliable records in Europe a century and a half ago, they can fuel two ongoing crises.
In a kind of perfect storm, that drought will have two consequences: will reduce the harvests of the coming months just when food supplies are at record prices and reduce power generation capacity of hydroelectric plants in the midst of an energy crisis.
Fire near El Pont de Vilomara, in Catalonia, Spain. AFP Photo
The Italian hydraulics produces 40% less electricity than a year earlier around the same time. In Portugal, the same type of hydroelectric plants, which generate electricity from turbines that move with the fall of water stored in dams, is barely 25% of what it was in June 2021.
Specialists say that the impact of drought added to high temperatures will have long-term effects on forests and agriculture. The European Commission estimates that this year the area will be reduced by 2.5% dedicated to planting wheat, barley and corn.
It doesn’t seem like much, but it adds to the grain reduction caused by the Russian attack on Ukraine and will encourage prices to continue to rise. Europe will not go hungry, it will continue to have a surplus of 40 million tons of cereals to export.
Those data are just an average. In Italy the reduction of agricultural production can be 30%. The European agrarian organizations remember that these weeks are the ones in which they must irrigate more the grains that they will collect in the next harvest season. The European Commission warns that these crises will become more frequent due to global warming.
Four years ago Europe experienced the most serious drought in 500 years. This year the great rivers carry less water than then. In some, like the German Rhine, river transport is beginning to be suspended for fear of accidents. The Rhine, according to the Dutch press, has had an average of 3.29 cubic kilometers less water per year in the last two decades than its historical average.
A plane fights the fire in Portugal. Photo EFE
Scientists say that winters are shorter and vegetation in Europe starts to grow and suck water from the ground earlier. The Azores anticyclone, which keeps skies clear and temperatures relatively warm, is growing larger and extending further into the continent.
Arid Europe (southern Spain and Portugal, parts of Greece and small parts of Italy) is growing. Soil temperature maps from the European Commission last week said soils in North Africa were at similar temperatures to those in southern France and northern Spain.