The weather discussions all started off in the autumn with the disappointment that, once again the September/October rains didn’t come. It was the continuation of a four year long period of drought in the region of Alicante. Discussion of the water issue in the press – particularly the excellent Alicante newspaper Información – has been almost a daily staple of the local news. As a Geography teacher, I have also been teaching my students all about it, so I spent a great deal of time collecting facts and figures, taking photographs of reservoir levels, etc. I recently put up a wall-sized map of the water system of Marina Baja and Benidorm in my classroom, and students have been doing homework based on the European Drought Observatory’s assessment of the Alicante rainfall figures.
So, the students will be highly amused at the irony tomorrow, when they discover they have a cover lesson with instructions put up on their Geography blog, because Mr Thomas is marooned at home due to the flooding. The road dips down into a valley before joining the main road to Finestrat, and that has become a torrent of water half a metre deep in the extreme rainfall that has occurred over the past 48 hours.
I have already written about the December rains on this blog, and Rubí’s blog post last week gave some idea of the continuing unusual weather in January. But the past weekend has been extreme. It has felt at times as if we have been visited by the Four Horsepersons of the Apocalypse. Last week there was snow, which was quite unusual, and even snow on the beaches of the Costa Blanca in places: a once in a century phenomenon. But the snow was just the start of the week’s surprises. Just as soon as we had got used to the cold and the snow and sleet, a new arrival: extreme thunder and lightning. A thunderstorm raged for twelve hours without stopping. Some of the thunderclaps were so loud they rattled the windows in the house. Heavy rain kept relentlessly pounding the house and the stable, and the donkeys’ terraces were lakes joined by gushing waterfalls moving topsoil downhill at a frightening rate.
By yesterday, Saturday, the rains had eased off. I went for a beer in Finestrat. All the lights were out but the bars were open in candlelight. The power had been out for several hours and was not restored until today. I smugly savoured the pleasure of knowing I was returning to an off-grid house powered with solar energy and generator backup, where everything was still running fine! But before I could get back to the house, down came the next lot of heavy rain. And this time the phrase “bucketing down” was literally true. The water was falling as if a solid wall of rain from a sky sized big bucket turned upside down!
I took shelter and waited for a safe moment to drive back down the 6 kilometres to my road up to El Realet, through the dip at the bottom of the road where the stream had gone halfway over the road earlier. Now it was across the whole road. I was wearing Wellington boots so I got out to test the depth before driving through. I reckoned it was not yet up to chassis height, but I would be going against the flow. I revved up and went through at a steady pace, and a slight bow wave built up. (I had done this once before in a diesel Peugeot in a flood near Canterbury, Kent, in 1999, and the whole engine had to be replaced, so I was a little concerned to say the least.) We made it. Then there were three small landslides before I got home to El Parral. The donkeys were dry in the stable, still eating the extra straw I had given them for bedding… (Thanks, donks.)
Today, the road seemed unusually quiet. There was one Land Rover going up the road, later returning down the road, and that was it. My neighbour Peter up the hill from me phoned to ask me if I had seen the Orxeta council vehicles at all. There was a landslide between here and his house, and two more landslides further up, as well as a tree across the road. I said I suspected that the water would now be too deep on the road below as well, with the overnight groundwater swelling the river after the surface flow had finished yesterday. So we were probably cut off in both directions, unless you had a 4×4 vehicle to get through the floodwater.
He said he would keep me updated. Meanwhile, I decided to take a look at the stream in the valley and set off with my camera down my path to the bottom of the estate. I did not get far. Vast swathes of unconsolidated material had slumped down across my path and there was a fallen pine tree to add to the block. There was no way of getting down. So I circled around and went down to the valley via a neighbour’s path. The river (for it was no longer the stream I had been seeing for the past month, nor the dry river bed, the barranco of old) was a raging torrent. It was this torrent that was heading down to the road at the bottom of the valley, so this told me all I needed to know about the current position down there. We must be marooned in the valley.
After taking photos and a video of the river, I climbed back up the hill and got into my car to drive down the short distance towards the main road. Sure enough there was a full river occupying the width of the road and possibly a half metre deep along a 100 metre section of road. A man in Wellington boots waded across with a carrier bag. He was from Orxeta, bringing food for his guard dog, in a neighbouring farm which was about two kilometres away. He had left his car parked by a bend on the main road above the cascading river. And there was the sudden realisation: I shall not be going to work tomorrow. I am not going to walk 16 kilometres to school…
Back at the house again, I swapped photos of landslides with local friends and neighbours, alerted the teacher who organises school cover, and sent in my work for students tomorrow. Then came the strange news that Vila Joiosa – ten kilometres down the road – had a 1.7 magnitude earthquake today. Until now it had been getting madder by the day, but now it was truly apocalyptic. 1.7 on the Richter scale is nothing much. It would not really be noticed unless you were sitting down and quite still: it would just be like a passing heavy truck. But the causal connection with the rainfall is probably certain: deep down movements of unusually high volumes of water can cause a tremor, with extra weight shifting masses of rock. I went to feed the donkeys, who were looking depressed in the stable, but dry. I put their straw down for them and they began eating. There was a great crashing sound from the rock quarry on the other side of the valley: a serious rockfall, by the sound of it. The donkeys fled the stable for a few minutes, startled and spooked. I just managed to get out of their way in time.
At present, as I write, it is suspiciously quiet out there. The wind has died down and there is just drizzle. The sound of the roaring torrent down in the valley is the only indicator in the pitch black night that anything unusual has happened.
Why “Horsepersons” not Horsemen? In the age of Brexit and Trump, maybe the only response that makes sense is to go against the current: revert to absurd memories of the age of political correctness.
It’s not just the weather that is upside down, is it?
There is no reference or reliable report anywhere regarding a 1.7 earthquake in Vila Joiosa (Villajoyosa). Maybe it was one of those “alternative facts” we will have to keep a lookout for in 2017. However, the fact of my road being totally cut off in either direction is verifiable…