A damaged beach bar in Malaga after last Friday's storm. / ÑITO SALAS

The perfect storm: wind, waves and climate change behind beach damage

The wind and waves that hit the Costa last Friday caused more damage than usual due to a combination of negative factors


It was the perfect storm that hit the Costa del Sol at the end of last week. The wind and waves caused more serious damage than in previous episodes of rough weather, especially in Marbella, Fuengirola and Malaga, due to a series of negative circumstances.

The waves that ate up the beaches at the end of last week measured up to five metres: still high, but in previous storms heights of eight metres have been recorded, without causing so much damage.

So what happened? José Carlos Báez, a researcher at the Spanish Institute of Oceanography was at the centre in Fuengirola port last Friday.

"The waves weren't that high, but it felt like it was raining onto the building's windows; my car was parked on the seafront and I had to wash it as it was covered in salt residue," he said.

One of the factors that combined to increase the destructive capacity of the waves was the wind. "The strong wind pushed the sea inland: it was water pushed by the wind; not the force of the wave itself," explained the expert.

The tide was also especially high due to the full moon, according local meteorologist José Luis Escudero.

José Carlos Báez added that the fact that the summer had only just ended was also a factor. "The beach is dynamic: more sand is naturally deposited in summer, but when the season changes the waves eat away at the beach, and so we are in the middle of the period when the beaches aren't so wide and the storm gets closer," he said.

Climate change

And all these factors are enveloped in a global problem; the sea level is rising because of climate change, something that is "demonstrated and clear", said the researcher. "So put together a rising sea level, high waves, a strong wind and the season when the beaches are smaller, the water gets further than it has ever been," he concluded.

The worst part is that this is likely to happen again.

"People aren't aware of climate change; it's not just that the weather is warmer, it affects the sea, which is also warmer. Changes are going to be more and more intense," he said.

Malaga and Marbella suffered the worst damage last Friday. In the city, the waves left the foundations of some beach bars exposed as sand was lost.

In Marbella, the water reached levels never seen before on the Golden Mile, said residents. As in Fuengirola, beach bars were the main victims along the Marbella coastline, while more than 300 metres of wastewater pipes were washed away in San Pedro Alcántara.

On Wednesday this week, Marbella's mayor, Ángeles Muñoz, announced that the town hall would spend more than one million euros to repair the damage caused by last week's storm. She made the announcement during a visit to the affected area with the provincial delegate from the Junta de Andalucía, Patricia Navarro.