In 2021 we are learning that the new normal will also be marked by extreme weather events. The director of BC3 is clear that the Filomena storm is attributable to the climate crisis.
The exceptional snowstorm Filomena, which has placed a large part of the peninsular center on red alert, now continues with a cold wave that will lower the temperature to historical records in the Iberian Peninsula. The extreme weather events, increasingly frequent, are one more warning that the alteration of the climatic system brings us unforeseeable consequences if we do not stop it.
Maria Jose Sanz directs from Leioa the Basque Center for Climate Change, specialized in the production of scientific knowledge to address environmental, socioeconomic and ethical decision-making related to the climate crisis.
What are the special characteristics that Filomena has to be the great snowfall of the century in Spain?
We have been predicting for years that more and more extreme events will appear. The fact that we always talk about climate change in terms of warming does not mean that it cannot be from both sides: both heat waves and cold waves. The climate system is suffering from certain malfunctions, which is why phenomena that used to occur every hundred years or every decade now occur practically every year. The first thing we have observed is the increase in more frequent heat waves, but it can also happen with extreme events such as cold waves. It could be attributed to the dysfunctions of the climate system that we have already seen that have started to appear and are going to become more intense in the future.
And why this year?
What has been seen is an autumn with many almost tropical storms in the Mediterranean basin and then an alteration of the anticyclone system and storms in the Atlantic. All storms are past here.
What other extreme phenomena will we have to face in Spain?
There may be tropicalization of non-tropical areas. For example, there is talk of the intensification of what they call tropical storms in the Mediterranean. That is to say, stormy phenomena of great intensity, almost small cyclones or hurricanes in the Mediterranean basin due to the excessive heating of the mass of water, especially on the surface. These kinds of events are going to happen.
What they owe?
At certain times of the year, the Azores anticyclone is placed in an area and this causes the storms to block and not pass over the Iberian Peninsula if the position of these anticyclones changes. We are altering marine circulations and, therefore, the energy exchange of the land and sea surface with the atmosphere. These formations that are traditionally anchored in certain places and periods can be altered.
If this is going to be our new normal, how will we have to adapt?
Improving short-term predictions of the appearance of this type of phenomenon, as has been done with Filomena. We must prepare in advance, so that we are not caught by surprise. If the frequencies are increasing, we will have to adapt our infrastructures and our means of civil protection to this new situation. We will have to learn from places where they are more frequent.
This will mean a large financial investment…
If events are extreme on both sides, it will take even more resources because you have to be prepared for just about anything. For this reason, improving prediction, both spatially and temporally, is essential and can help in a more efficient distribution of resources.
What is necessary to anticipate?
The first would be to improve weather forecasts. Climate models have improved a lot in the last two decades, but perfecting them is an issue that cannot be left out of hand. In addition, these predictions must be better connected with management on the ground, with civil protection, with medium- and short-term planning of resources within the different administrative units. When you face unforeseeable circumstances, a priori, the only thing you can do is improve coordination and communication.
Are we in time to stop this increased frequency?
Obviously these phenomena are also an alarm call that mitigation is essential. We must begin by eliminating the causes, although we know that there will be an inertia. If not, it will get worse and much more unpredictable. The bottom line is that both mitigating and adapting to climate change are two sides of the same coin. We have to face climate change from both perspectives and both are equally important.
From an energy point of view, what are the consequences of high consumption during big frosts?
What it indicates is that another sector in which it would be essential to act is that of housing and construction. We cannot afford to have buildings that are not well insulated with the latest technologies to avoid overusing heating when there are cold waves or air conditioning in summer. In new buildings, of course, but we must also address the rehabilitation program of buildings that already exist. It is as priority as changing the energy model to renewables.
And about health?
Cold waves have consequences derived from winter that can be exacerbated, but these are easier to overcome because we are more used to going through winters. However, with hot ones it is more complicated, because one of the serious problems that exists is the increase in night temperature. With the cold you regulate the temperature, with the heat it is more difficult and the air conditioning generates many more problems than heating in health.