Extreme drought in Catalonia: Rainfall levels drop to desert-like values

by Lorraine Williamson
rainfall levels
ASSSA

BARCELONA – Last year’s rainfall levels in more than half of Catalonia, especially the southern part, correspond to desert climates. This is the conclusion of the Catalan Weather Service (SMC) based on weather data from September 1 last year to August 31 this year. 

More than the southern half of Catalonia, parts of the northeastern coast and foreland, and the distant foothills of the Pyrenees, 45% of the total land area, have not reached 400 mm of rainfall in the last twelve months. 

In addition, the report on the last rainy year points to an even more serious fact: the number of stations managed by the SMC that recorded values below 250 mm, characteristic of a desert climate, is numerous. One millimetre of water per square metre collected by a rain gauge is equal to one litre. So, in many places in Catalonia, it has not rained even 250 litres in twelve months. That is, in an entire year, even a typical metal barrel just under a metre high could not be filled. 

Chronic drought is not only caused by the heat 

The drought is becoming chronic in Spain, but not only because of the heat. “There are areas that lose more than half of the water before it is consumed.” Coastal municipalities south of Barcelona, such as Sitges, received only 143.2 litres this last rain year. This is a completely unprecedented fact according to the Catalan Weather Service. 

Tarragona’s coastal towns are also particularly affected, such as Cunit with 175.5 litres; Calafell, with 192.7 litres in twelve months, and Vendrell, with 206.8 litres. 

Outside the high mountains, where between 1000 and 1500 litres have been collected in the western Pyrenees, the highest values were also scarce, barely reaching 850 litres, such as in Cerdanya, where only 849.5 litres fell in the last 12 months. 

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Unprecedented levels 

The rainfall deficit is general in Catalonia and in many cases, there are no previous records of such low rainfall. Nearly half of Catalonia’s surface showed precipitation representing values between 70% and 90% of the 1991-2020 climatological average. The area covers much of the interior and the Pyrenees, as well as some frontal and coastal areas. 

Only 5% of the total Catalan territory is within the usual historical averages in terms of rainfall levels. This mainly concerns isolated small areas in the northwest of the region. 

Worst hit by drought 

Garraf, Penedès, Baix Llobregat and Barcelonès are the regions most affected by the drought. Here the amount of rain has not even reached 40% of the reference level for the year. 

The last rainy year is therefore considered the driest in the entire history of observations such as those from the Fabra Observatory in Barcelona. This registered 319.2 litres. This makes it the driest in its 110 years of observations. 

Overall, the report indicates that in much of Catalonia, this rainy year from September 2022 to August 2023 is among the 5 driest years of the past twenty years. 

Also read: State of emergency declared in Catalonia amid severe drought

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