Spain still emerges from Filomena, its worst snowstorm in 50 years

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Spain is still widening after the biggest snowstorm to hit the Mediterranean country in 50 years hit the capital, Madrid, and surrounding areas over the weekend, disrupting transit and efforts to distribute coronavirus vaccines, and causing at least four deaths.

Most of the snow from Storm Filomena began to fall on Friday evening and left 20 inches in the capital and neighboring provinces by the end of Saturday.

Rail service in some areas has been suspended and the New York Times reported 12,500 miles of roads have been closed or disrupted. Firefighters, military personnel and emergency crews worked to clear tracks and roads from Friday to Saturday, freeing more than 1,500 people trapped in their cars in freezing temperatures.

Although hundreds of roads were cleared on Sunday and departing flights resumed at Madrid-Barajas Airport, the Associated Press reported that roads in parts of the country were still largely blocked and officials have warned that the country was not yet clear.

“A week of extreme cold is coming and which will transform all the snow on the ground into ice, thus multiplying the risk,” Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska told reporters on Sunday. “The storm is causing a cold snap that could lower temperatures to record levels,” he added.

At least four people died from the storm. Two homeless people have died from an exhibition – one near Madrid and the other in Calatayud, a town in the northeast of the country. A woman and a man also drowned after their car was washed away by flooding when a river burst near the southern city of Malaga.

Government authorities on Sunday warned people to stay off the roads as much as possible, the AP reported, saying that although all those stuck in their vehicles had been rescued, many abandoned vehicles remained on the roads. roads.

Many Spaniards took advantage of the snow to have fun in winter. On social media, scenes of Spaniards in the streets, happily engaging in mass snowball fights have been around.

Some revelers have even been seen skiing the streets of Madrid.

What is behind Spain’s historic snow?

Although Spanish reports predicted snow, few expected it to be so intense.

Rubén del Campo, spokesman for the Spanish government’s meteorological office, Aemet, told reporters that “you will probably have to look back to the 1970s for snowfall of a similar magnitude in and around the capital.

It can be incredibly difficult to pinpoint exactly what combination of factors produced this extreme weather event (or any other), but the experts I spoke to said the historic Filomena snowfall may have occurred because high humidity levels combined with perfect temperatures for snow, just The right time.

In general, the warmer the air, the more moisture it can hold, which increases the potential for precipitation. It is possible that the air before Filomena contains more moisture and then meets the “Goldilocks conditions” of around 28 ° F to 32 ° F which are necessary for the snowfall to adhere to the surface. of the earth.

Like Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in the United States told me, “The maximum snowfall occurs when surface temperatures are around 28 degrees Fahrenheit and there is a lot of moisture entering the storm from the oceans, where humidity is abundant.” and more abundant than before because of global warming.

In Filomena’s case, added Trenberth, “the conditions were perfect”.

This does not necessarily mean that climate change is directly responsible for the snowstorm in Spain.

“You can’t associate this storm with anything directly associated with climate change,” Robinson of Rutgers told me. “However, that said, there is nothing in the meteorological world these days where climate change does not have an underlying influence on what is happening. “

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