Come on in: the apocalypse is delightful

During the past years on this blog and in my old Costa Blanca geography teaching blog, the hydrology of Alicante province – and this part of it known as Marina Baixa – has been a frequently mentioned topic. As a geography teacher I brought local hydrology into the Key Stage 3 and GCSE curriculum, and helped A-level students devise case studies on the region’s history of drought. There is a fascinating contradiction between rapid urbanisation on a touristic coastline and developing this in Europe’s most water-strained region.

We have come through a week in which catastrophic flooding in this province has become a feature of the world’s press and at least two towns in the south of Alicante are now islands in a sea of floodwater. I am thankful that here in El Parral we have got away lightly. Early in the week I prepared for a whole day, knowing how serious was the forecast of high altitude atmospheric phenomena, so I tied everything down to protect against high wind and torrential rain. I had food ready in bags to feed the donkeys in their stable for three days and nights. In the end, the only loss was a broken flowerpot, knocked over in the swirling 60 kilometres-per-hour gusts.

Storm coming in from the north on Thursday

It began on Thursday and all finished with an apocalyptic release of electrical energy in the early hours of Saturday morning when the frequency of the lightning woke me at 5 a.m. It was long before I heard the distant thunder and at first it seemed as though the firework displays at the summer fiestas had returned at a mad time of the morning! The lightning was flashing at a rate of four or five flashes per second!

Jorge Olcina of the University of Alicante climatology department explained it in terms of “the final release of all the titanic energy built up over three days, high in the atmosphere”. Many people in the city of Alicante awoke and were afraid. Nobody had ever seen such a lightning display. Some caught it on video and there are several on YouTube:

The weather system had hit us on Thursday and then moved south on Friday to strike Murcia. Late on Friday it seemed to build up again over Alicante, then remained, rotating over the city like some malign extra-terrestrial menace, and when I went out at 5 a.m. to see where this lightning display was coming from, it was plainly over the city. I turned on my computer to see the radar picture and the prediction on the AEMET radar was the whole system moving north. Directly towards here at El Parral.

There are some basic precautions when there is a risk of lightning strikes: obviously the computer needed to go off immediately and be unplugged. Mobile phones should go off. Also the water pump is at risk, so that had to be disconnected. My solar panels are on top of a steel structure and that is the most vulnerable high point for a lightning strike, but there are also two gigantic pine trees Los Gemelos (the twins) 100 metres from the house – the tallest trees within the whole area. They should always be avoided in lightning storms, as everyone know; but the other standard safety advice in a lightning storm is to stay indoors. That does not apply in the case of this house. It is a small structure built with reinforced concrete and with a concrete roof. What is concrete reinforced with? Steel. You don’t protect yourself from an extreme lightning storm by sitting in a steel cage.

I reckoned my safest position would be in the donkey stable, built with timber and a corrugated perspex roof covered with split cane. What could conduct lightning there? So I joined the donkeys in the stable at about 6 a.m. as the thunder grew louder and the constant lightning flashes were ever more blinding. The donkeys were restless and Aitana was shaking, so I held onto her as the torrential rain began outside, rattling on the roof.

Oh… the roof, I thought again. “Oh no!” It is indeed a timber and cane structure but over the cane, on both the roof and three sides, there is a tightly stretched cage of chicken wire and chain-link fencing to bind the cane outer-layer together against the wind. So I was actually standing in the middle of a full metal cage, just as the most spectacular lightning storm I have ever seen arrived directly overhead!

I stayed and took my chance with the donkeys. When the storm finally moved on and was lighting up the mountain ridges in the north, the rain stopped and I calmed the donkeys down. There was a rise in the ambient temperature: it climbed by several degrees immediately after the storm. It was half past seven and I had been awake since five o’clock without even a cup of coffee.

Within a few hours the sky was clear and the entire weather episode, which has lasted half a week, was finally over. Well, over here. South from here, there are six fatalities, the army has been deployed to deal with the chaos in several towns, and the scenes in the news reports are truly apocalyptic. Such a weather phenomenon used to be called a gota fria here in Spain, but after continual technical explanation in the local news this week, everyone is referring to the “dana” after the technical name, Depresión Aislada en Niveles Altos : an isolated high altitude depression. I can rest as a retired geography teacher, for everyone is happily learning geography without me.

Photo credit: Alys Thomas. (More of her photos in Rubí’s blogpost next Tuesday.)

7 thoughts on “Come on in: the apocalypse is delightful

  1. Gosh! The video does look very apocalyptic. No wonder Aitana was so frightened! Can I just point out the REINFORCED CONCRETE FLOOR of the stable? -!!!!!!!!!!!!! You and the Donks would have helped keep each other calm. You will all need a good rest now and a restock of beer and carrots, no doubt!

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  2. I wondered about the Faraday cage aspect of it as I stood in the stable with the lightning flying around. My question was whether the chicken wire and chainlink cage is earthed. I looked at it again today and parts of the chainlink touch the ground (you know the building) but it needs a very definite metal spike into the ground I think.

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  3. Copper earth connection:
    Get something which has less resistance the chicken wire and wrap the -e.g.- last bit of chicken wire fence to it. Hammer it at least 1/2 metre into the ground. 150cm of 16mm copper water pipe would do it. Water around the Cu-soil interface with salt solution to help the flow of electrons and keep it wet.
    HTH

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  4. Yes indeed, Alys you’re right: I forgot about the reinforced concrete floor! It is a complete 3D Faraday cage! As long as the wire on the roof and walls is connected to the steel in the floor it should be completely safe.

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  5. Thanks, Steve. Proper science teacher solution there! Great, I’ve got some copper pipe and that can be easily arranged, but preferably at leisure before the next “gota fria“/DANA and not in a panic in the middle of the night!

    Bring on the apocalypse and we’ll give it another go!

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