"It would have been a disaster if the rain had fallen in the city"

Fausto Polvorinos.
Fausto Polvorinos. / G.Pozo.
  • Fausto Polvorinos Head of forecasting at the local office of Aemet

The head of forecasting at the local Malaga branch of the state meteorological office, Aemet, has been answering questions this week about why the recent rain was so heavy and so difficult to predict.

Fausto Polvorinos is due to retire next week and, by coincidence, he started his service at Aemet thirty years ago in 1989 with a great local flood, and ends it in similar circumstances.

What would have happened if the rain last Sunday had fallen on the city?

It would have been a total disaster. Big cities have a lot of asphalt and the ground doesn't soak up anything. It could have happened as our original [red] weather warning was for the entire Costa.

Is there any way to have prevented this?

If you're talking about infrastructure, it's difficult. This record figure will be built into future weather models, but in the last 50 years there's never been anything like this.

Is there any kind of precedent?

We have three downpours over 300mm on recent record. One in Cortes de la Frontera, with 300mm; one in Teba in 1969 with 309mm; and the previous record at Malaga airport of 313mm in 1957.

If this is so unusual, is it down to climate change then?

With something like this somebody will say it's down to climate change. It's clear that temperatures in Malaga are on the rise but I'd hesitate to say this incident is down to climate change. Here it is caused by a pocket of cold air at high altitude, a cut-off low. Not all these bring flooding but almost all cases of severe rain are down to very low pressure pockets.

So why did it rain so much?

In the low pressure, air is speeding up and breaking away, a dynamic pulling away. And at the same time the winds off the Mediterranean hit the mountains, setting off rain. It rained so much this time because there was more instability and a chain reaction was set off that stretched from the Sierra de las Nieves and the Sierra Blanca to Campillos with continuous rain. The next day the arc stretched from Estepona to Ronda. It's not an unusual weather event, we see it many times a year. But what's unusual are the record-breaking figures.

We've seen a lot of weather warnings recently, almost always for rain and with yellow level alerts. What's that down to?

I've been here for thirty years and it's true that previously it was harder to issue warnings. I think it's because we have a lot more information fed back to us now. In the olden days, we didn't find out about what had happened, but now, with social media, whatever is going on we find out about and this affects the sensitivity of the forecasts and perhaps makes them more cautious.

Before we weeded more out and it had to be something really important to put out a warning. Now we are extra careful. There is overreaction in the areas where there are most people. However, the really dangerous, unexpected phenomena could happen in the rural areas.

Are there more severe weather events nowadays?

I don't know if there is or there isn't, the climate change models say that there is more heavy rain. In Malaga we've studied it but we haven't noticed it. It's not that there are more, rather nowadays we detect more than before.