The Warning Of An Expert After Filomena: "the Extreme Episodes

The warning of an expert after Filomena: “The extreme episodes will be more and more frequent”

José Miguel Viñas, meteorologist at Meteored, explains that this adverse phenomenon that has caused road and supply cuts and human losses in Spain, could bear a surname: climate change.

Members of the UME Military Emergency Unit cleared the area around Plaza de Cibeles in Madrid of snow this Sunday.

After several hours of incessant snowfall, the center of the Iberian Peninsula woke up last Saturday covered, in some areas, by about 50 centimeters of snow that collapsed roads and supply networks, and forced the closure of the Madrid-Barajas Adolfo Suárez airport and the railways. The Filomena storm hit Spain with force and lasted until Sunday, as expected, according to weather forecasts.

It had been more than a century since there had been a snowfall like this weekend, which is followed these days by a wave of extreme cold in part of the country. But, in a climate change scenario, characterized by a general increase in temperatures and extreme weather events, it is possible that episodes like Filomena will repeat themselves.

According to Meteored’s meteorologist, José Miguel Viñas, the weather is getting more and more extreme and more severe winter events will be felt, as well as more frequent and longer droughts, torrential rains and even hurricanes and tropical storms.

The Filomena storm has caused the largest snowfall recorded in the last century. What conditions have been given for it to have been so intense?

Two have been the keys. On the one hand, the very cold air of arctic origin that reached the Peninsula and the Balearic Islands at New Year’s, which kept the temperatures very low (very wintery atmosphere), and on the other hand, the Filomena storm itself, which, on approaching the Peninsula, in On its way from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, it injected very humid air for a long period of time —four days—, which was the trigger for the copious snowfalls, particularly abundant and intense in the central zone.

What are the chances that this event will occur again in our country?

This magnitude is low, since we have to go back the order of a century to find a snowfall of similar or greater magnitude. Establishing a return period is complicated, since the weather is becoming more extreme lately, which forces us to rethink this type of calculation. We are seeing it with heat waves and also with episodes of intense precipitation.

And what is the possibility that this type of phenomenon will become more and more frequent?

Jose Miguel VinasThe meteorologist José Miguel Viñas

The trend is toward more extreme weather, but in the current global warming scenario that fits with winters that tend to be milder. So it is most likely that we will see from time to time cold spells or significant snowfall, but interspersed with abnormally warm periods in the same winters, due to the upward trend in temperatures. In any case, changes in atmospheric circulation in our latitudes, which are temperate, as a result of climate change are currently the subject of study and scientific debate.

Climate change is not just synonymous with heat waves, but with other extreme weather events as temperatures rise. In this sense, what role has climate change played in this storm?

Today we cannot unequivocally link this heavy snowfall with climate change. What we can say is that episodes of adverse or extreme weather like this, not only in winter, but at any other time of the year, will tend to be more and more frequent on a planet where the temperature continues to rise.

Although Filomena and the cold wave that follows are going to set record low temperatures, the global temperature increase trend does not change. How can both processes be explained within climate change?

For years, many more records have been broken for heat than for cold. On a global scale, the dominance of positive temperature anomalies is overwhelming compared to negative ones. Without this perspective, we can fall into the mistake of thinking that episodes of cold are compensated for by those of extreme heat, but it is the latter that set the trend. Although the global average temperature continues to rise, as climate projections suggest, at different times and places there may be a significant winter episode in which record low temperatures are reached.

What other extreme events associated with climate change have occurred and could occur in Spain?

In mainland Spain and the Balearic Islands —something extensible to the entire Mediterranean region— the greater rainfall irregularity is one of the main impacts of climate change. But so are the increased frequency of droughts, increasingly intense and long-lasting, such as episodes of torrential rains, or, as has happened now, a winter storm, with very abundant snowfall. Nor should we forget about heat waves or the potential risk of a tropical storm or hurricane approaching our geographical area, which is something we have been observing in recent years.

How can the measures adopted to mitigate the effects of climate change, such as reducing temperatures, be able to prevent the succession of events like Filomena in the coming years?

Time plays against us. We still have some margin to avoid the worst scenarios that climate projections pose. This decade is crucial. If we do not act globally in a decisive way, quickly and greatly reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, with the CO2 in the lead, we will enter uncharted territory, in which we may lose our ability to modulate the behavior of global temperature by the inertia of the climate system.