Half a continent under snow, Spain remains warm thanks to ‘atmospheric river’

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atmospheric river and warm weather

MADRID – Much of Europe has been covered with snow in recent days and is groaning under the cold. That combination leads to road closures, problems in hundreds of cities, and congested airports. Meanwhile, something completely different is going on in Spain as it remains mostly warm.

Although it has felt cold in recent days, there are relatively warm temperatures in the country. It is more likely that the current temperatures contrast with an extremely warm autumn than that it is cold for the time of year.

Also read: Colder weather and rain or snow in much of Spain

According to AEMET, the Spanish weather agency, the coming week will be particularly cold and dry in the north and east of Europe. The cause is a huge mass of cold air forming over Russia. This is not to be confused with a descent of Arctic air. This phenomenon could be the result of “mass heat loss due to the ‘albedo effect’ of the fully snow-covered region.”

What is albedo effect?

In summer people often talk about the “Iberian oven” effect. This is caused by anticyclones: no wind to move the air and no clouds protecting us from the sun’s rays. This results in rising temperatures. The albedo effect, or the reflection of radiation through the snow, has the opposite effect. Moreover, it leads to a drop in temperature.

Will Spain be affected?

Although similar cold air masses have fallen over Western Europe in the past and frozen everything, Spain seems to be relatively safe from the ‘beast from the east’ for now. AEMET predicts that the coming days will be “warmer and rainier than normal for this time of year.”

Rising temperatures in Spain

According to meteorologist Duncan Wingen, the anticyclone over the Azores will recover at the end of the week. This ensures stable weather in the south of Spain. However, the northern half of the peninsula will be affected by a long ‘atmospheric river’ (see image on this page) of moisture that “connects us to the Caribbean”. This means that, apart from the Mediterranean and the islands, the rain will fall “over much of the country”.

What is an atmospheric river?

An atmospheric river is a long, narrow, and temporary strip in the troposphere where horizontal transport of water vapor takes place, supplied by tropical and/or extratropical moisture sources. Atmospheric rivers can produce intense and widespread precipitation when they are forced to rise, for example in mountain ranges that are well exposed to these moisture flows.

Large temperature differences

In Spain, there will be temperature differences of up to 30 degrees between different regions. While the anticyclone over the Azores keeps temperatures in the Canary Islands around 20 degrees, temperatures in the Pyrenees are approaching winter values of around 10 degrees below zero.

On the peninsula, temperatures will soften from Wednesday with values of 20ºC or more on the Mediterranean coast, the Balearic Islands, and the Guadalquivir Valley. Inland and north the atmosphere will be more unpleasant with maximum temperatures of 8 to 17 ºC.

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