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Weekly Edition 032: Saturday 6th October 2001

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Island Ecology
by José P Ribas

The Windy Side Of Autumn In Ibiza

This time of the year, probably the best for the Islands and for their inhabitants, is the proper time to live and observe some of the most powerful climatic phenomenon.

Itís the right time to leave the boat in the marina or somewhere well sheltered and protected, to be used only when all the signals of the sky and the sea are favourable.

Even so, it is also necessary to follow the weather forecast by radio, in case you want to spend the day out sailing or fishing, because weather conditions are not to be trusted at all.

They can change drastically over the hour at this time of the year. Mother Nature packs such an amazing amount of power that itís hard to believe it, if you don't see it - considering the mild and usually very moderate Mediterranean weather.

This is because the northern cold winds reach the Mediterranean skies, which are warm and very humid because of the very high evaporation.

When an area of this very cold air is situated above a strong ascendant current of warm and humid air, this gets suddenly cooled down, even frozen sometimes. When it reaches the higher levels, forming very powerful storms, the water-steam gets suddenly liquidated or solidifies and produces a meteorological phenomenon that we know as the "Gota Fria" (the Cold Drop).   

This phenomenon produces very hard intensive rains (they can reach hundreds of litres per square meter in a few hours) and sometimes hailstones the size of Ping-Pong balls. This big contrast of the temperatures and exceptional rains also provokes unexpected and sudden strong winds that could qualify as hurricane winds (speeds over a hundred and ten kilometres per hour), occasionally forming tornadoes or "Fiblůns," as we call them.

Fortunately these phenomenon happen out at sea most of the time, being very dangerous for all the boats nearby, but there are no serious consequences inland.

When the "Gota Fria" happens inland, or one of these rather small "Twisters" reaches the Islands, as happens now and then (a bigger one every twelve or fifteen years), disaster is guaranteed. Flooded flats and forest devastation will be the minimum damage to be expected.

This happened ten years ago at the start of autumn, when a "gota fria" storm was formed at sea between Ibiza and Mallorca. The storm was brought to us by the "Gargal" winds and a "twister" landed at "Portinax" in the north of the Island, on a beautiful, sunny and tranquil (until then) Sunday afternoon. It moved fast, Southwest along the littoral, in and off land, leaving a devastated stripe by the coast, finishing at "Cala Tarida" thirty kilometres away.

In less then two hours, dozens of boats were lost, sunk or pushed to shore, against the rocks, some in San Miguel and San Antonio's harbour. Not one was left floating in "Portinax." Two days later, ten or twelve boats were pulled out from the seabed to the beach shore, after being tied up by divers to tractors and volunteers (I was one of them) operating from the beach.

Hundreds of trees were rooted up and thousands lost most of their branches, smashing more then ten cars. In San Antonio, the placards, umbrellas, tables and chairs of the bar terraces were flying all over the place for hundreds of metres. Quite a few buildings were damaged, as well as overhead electric and telephone lines falling, provoking power cuts and cutting the traffic on some roads for two days before they could be removed. Several garages and underground locals were completely inundated in about an hour of very heavy rain and all the traffic had to stop for a few hours on this part of the Island.

The material losses of this disaster were hundreds of millions of pesetas.  The ecological impact can still be seen in some parts of the littoral forest at Portinax and the hills near by.  All these dead trees and dry timber left in the forest increase the risk of forest fires, being more difficult to move in it and turning them more powerful and dangerous when it happens.

It was really amazing that there were no victims; not even one person was sent to hospital because of this storm. (As Mariano Planells often says in his books: "Tanit always looks after and protects her sons.") Three hours after the event, the night was calm and pleasant, with a clean sky full of stars.

Let's hope that this meteorological phenomenon is going to be considered properly (not just in theory, but in real terms of security for the population) by the new "P.T.I." (Plan Territorial Insular) that is being developed by the local government (Consell Insular) and all the Municipal Districts of Ibiza-Formentera.

The land speculation that we have been suffering in these last decades has achieved licences for building in areas that nobody with common sense will ever build. This is even forbidden by the present laws, but also ignored by the responsible administrations, such as the natural course of torrents that have been refilled and blocked so they can be built on (Port des Torrent, Cala Tarida, Cala Vadella, etc.).

Or the flat areas of several square kilometres by Ibiza Town and San Antonio, that have been suffering historical inundations, over one meter deep, every twenty or thirty years.  That was when the torrents were clean, open and free, long before any building was stopping the big amount of extra water to run free to the sea.

In the actual conditions, probably less then twenty per cent of the extra water that before was running free in those torrents can be canalised through the pipes and the ridiculous trenches they have built up to replace them. The rest will form a huge dam behind the seaside buildings. But it will not remain there; it will make its own way through.

The native population knows that it is just a matter of time because it has happened before several times in a lifetime and it will happen again. We live like the Californians, with the syndrome of waiting for the "Big One".

But our problem is more obvious, much easier to control or at least to prevent and reduce most of the negative effects, especially in terms of saving lives, just by using common sense and the necessary time and money to do what has to be done.      

The Good News

(From the local daily newspaper "Diario de Ibiza")

Two German tourist were stopped at Ibiza airport with a box full of lizards, (from forty to fifty) that they were trying to take back with them to Germany. These pretty and colourful saurian reptiles, by law autochthonous protected specie "Lacerta lacerta," were captured in Formentera and the little islands by and are all of different colours.  The ones that do get smuggled out are being sold in Germany for ten thousands pesetas each, so the holiday was paid for, as some "clever lads" have being doing in the past years.

I'm glad that the lizards can be left where they belong and donít have to spend the rest of their lives eating sauerkraut in an artificial and boring "Terrarium".

José P Ribas

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