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  • Writer's picture@ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood

More Droughts, Less Grapes for Portugal, Spain

The Azores high, or Azores anticyclone, is a high-pressure system that can block wet weather fronts to the Iberian Peninsula and is expanding, causing more frequent droughts in Portugal and Spain. In its summer position, the Azores-Bermuda high’s clockwise movement of air drives waves away from West Africa towards the Caribbean and Central America, favoring storms, especially during the hurricane season.


By 2100, olive-growing regions in Spain, the world’s largest olive oil producer, are projected to suffer a 30 percent decline in production. By 2050, grape-growing regions in Portugal and Spain are projected to decrease between 25 percent and 99 percent due to severe water deficits, according to new research.

“(Our findings) have big implications for the water resources that are available for agriculture and other water-intensive industries or for tourism. It doesn’t bode well,” Dr. Caroline Ummenhofer, of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, a research facility for the study of marine science and engineering, and one of the researchers told The Guardian (July 4).

“Most rain on the Iberian Peninsula falls in winter as wet, (unsettled) low-pressure systems blow in from the Atlantic,” reported The Guardian (July 4). “But a (stable) high-pressure system off the coast, called the Azores high, can block the wet weather fronts.”

The expansion of the Azores high is causing the reduction in rainfall, and the expansion is caused by the increase in greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Nature Geoscience article, Twentieth-century Azores High expansion unprecedented in the past 1,200 years (July 4).

Hot, dry summers make winter rainfall vital for the Iberian Peninsula’s ecological and economic health. Yet, a robust annual drying has been recorded in the second half of the 20th century. A further 10- to 20-percent drop in winter precipitation is projected for the end of the 21st century, making regional agriculture one of the most vulnerable in Europe, according to the Nature Geoscience article.


Winemakers from the northern Minho to the southern Algarve are starting to prepare for an early vindima, or harvest, which includes cleaning the baskets and other preparation, as well as actual grape picking. Portugal is home to more than 250 indigenous varietals.


“Earliest Vindima Ever” in July

As reported in Expresso (July 29), according to the latest harvest letter from The Fladgate Partnership, which is a holding company that has businesses in port wine and tourism. Taylor’s Port, founded in 1692 in Vila Nova de Gaia, was the group’s original company:

“The year, 2005, was the standard year of climatic aridity but, in 2022, the aridity index is higher due to the higher air temperature for the same precipitation.”

(The aridity index is one factor of drought. In Portugal, the Portuguese Institute of the Sea and Atmosphere (IPMA) performs meteorological drought monitoring using the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) and the Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI), according to the State of the Environmental Portal: Portugal.

(The PDSI is based on the concept of water balance, taking into account data on precipitation amount, air temperature and available water capacity. This index enables the detection of occurring periods of drought, rating them according to the level of intensity (mild, moderate, severe and extreme).

Winemakers from the northern Minho to the southern Algarve are starting to prepare for an early vindima, or harvest, which includes cleaning the baskets and other preparation, as well as actual grape picking. At Herdade Grande in Vidigueira, Alentejo, the vindima is beginning the weekend of July 29.

“It’s still July, but we have to start the earliest vindima ever on this estate," winemaker Diogo Lopes, told Expresso (July 29), "where we honor a century-old history". The vindima usually starts in the second week of August. Between January and July 24, Vidigueira recorded 166 mm of rain as compared with 223 mm in 2021, which was also a dry year.

In Alentejo, harvesting some grape varieties in July to make sparkling wine is nothing new, but the harvesting of grapes for table wines, especially reds, took place later, said Diogo Lopes, aware of the need to adapt practices to global warming.

“He believes that the quality of the wine will not be compromised, despite admitting a drop of 10 percent to 15 percent in quantity.”


Tourism in Portugal contributed 8% of Gross Value Added (GVA) and grew twice as fast as the overall economy (8% compared with 3%) in 2018, reported the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation T(OECD) Tourism Trends and Policies 2020. The OECD called tourism “one of the cornerstones of the Spanish economy” and accounted for 11.8% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2017.

In Portugal, tourist developments in the Algarve will be adopting or already have adopted measures to reduce water consumption such as controlling ornamental fountains, irrigation of green spaces at night, and asking guests not to change towels every day, according to Expresso (July 29).

To make tourists aware of the need to save water, hotels plan to promote the Portuguese Environment Agency (APA) campaign, One minute a day, let's turn the tap dry. In addition, Algarve Tourism Region (RTA) itself has a campaign on social media: Nature doesn’t take a vacation.

The Minister of the Environment and Climate Action, Duarte Cordeiro, announced last week the need to reduce water consumption in hotels due to the severe drought in the region.

“This is not about rationing,” Joao Fernandes, president of Algarve Tourism Region (RTA), told Expresso. “These are contingency measures to be adopted by tourist enterprises, in order to reduce consumption, which do not directly affect the activity.”

Businesses in the tourist sector agree that there is a need to control water use. Helder Martins, president of the Association of Hotels and Tourist Enterprises of the Algarve (AHETA) told Expresso:

If “there is no water, the situation is serious.”

He pointed out that these measures are directed at the immediate drought. He highlighted the need to adopt long-term solutions.

“I remember the drought of 2005 and, at the time, there was talk of a series of investments that later fell into oblivion.” Helder Martins lamented. “Now there is talk of the connection to Pomarao (a new water intake on the Guadiana River) and desalinization, and it is important that they materialize.”

Publico (February 17) wrote: The Algarve has suffered cyclical droughts, of great severity, since 1943/45, but when the winter is generous, the Mediterranean climate conditions are quickly forgotten.”

Desalination Plant in “Design Phase”

Expresso wrote: “Both projects are foreseen in the Recovery and Resilience Plan (PRR), within the scope of the Water Efficiency Plan for the Algarve region. Last week, on the same day that the need to reduce water consumption in tourist resorts in the Algarve was announced, the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Action announced that the desalination plant is in the design phase, and procedures have been initiated for the Environmental Impact Assessment.”

Publico (February 17) reported: “There has been controversy regarding placement of a desalination plant, which “will cost 45 million euros but only guarantees 10% of the region’s consumption. With tourism and irrigation on the rise, the future looks increasingly uncertain.

“All municipalities want seawater desalination, as long as the plant is installed in the neighboring municipality and they do not have to deal with toxic brine. The company, Agua do Algarve, the entity responsible for guaranteeing the water supply to the municipalities, is this week meeting with the presidents, one by one, appealing to the ‘collaborative’ spirit in the fight against drought.

“The Recovery and Resilience Plan (PRP) has a budget of 200 million euros to mitigate the effects of “water stress”. . . . The project to filter seawater represents an investment of 45 million euros. In the first phase, no more than 8 million cubic meters will be treated, that is, less than 10% of urban consumption in the region (80.3 million)” according to Publico.

There are about 16,000 desalination plants in the world, which use different exploration models and technologies. The team of designers from Consultores de Engenharia e Ambiente (COBA), the company awarded the project in the Algarve, began by identifying seven possible locations to install the equipment on the strip between Tavira and Portimao.

Expresso reported;

“Also, it was announced that the project to reinforce the water supply with the connection to Pomarao already has been awarded.

“Projects also are underway to make water consumption on golf courses more efficient. ‘Reductions have been made in the grassy areas of fields and the replacement of grass with species of lesser water consumption,’ said Joao Fernandes, president of Algarve Tourism Region.

“Improvements in drainage and irrigation efficiency also have been implemented, and there is an intention to use treated wastewater to irrigate the fields. This solution, however, has faced technical problems in water treatment plants and is only scheduled for 2025.

“It should also be noted that, in September of last year, and also within the scope of the PRR, a program was launched to improve the water supply networks of the Algarve municipalities that have high levels of water loss.”

Nationally, the Bravura reservoir in the western Algarve is in the worst situation with a volume of 12 percent of its capacity, reported the Portuguese Environment Agency (APA), according to Expresso.

Dramatic Increase of Azores Highs

The researchers for the Nature Geoscience article found that winters featuring “extremely large” Azores highs have increased dramatically from one winter in 10 before 1850 to one in four since 1980, according to The Guardian. These extremes also push the wet weather northwards, making downpours in the northern United Kingdom and Scandinavia more likely.

From 1850 to 1980, the frequency was once every seven years but, after 1980, this rose to every four years, reported The Guardian. Data showed that extremely large Azores highs slash average monthly rainfall in winter by about a third. Further data from chemical analysis of stalagmites in caves in Portugal show that low rainfall correlates closely with large Azores highs.

Ummenhofer told The Guardian:

“The number of extremely large Azores highs in the last 100 years is really unprecedented when you look at the previous 1,000 years. That has big implications because an extremely large Azores high means relatively dry conditions for the Iberian Peninsula and the Mediterranean. We could also conclusively link this increase to anthropogenic (influence of human beings on nature) emissions.”

The researchers analyzed weather data going back to 1850 and computer models replicating the climate from 850 AD to 2005, reported The Guardian. However, other studies addressing later years are consistent with the new findings: the Azores high is expected to continue to expand, further increasing drought in Portugal and Spain, unless there is a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The article reads:

“Here, we establish that the Azores high expansion is driven by external climate forcings and show that the only external forcing that produces this signal in the industrial era is atmospheric GHG concentrations” (greenhouse gas emissions).


The primary greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere are water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone. The greenhouse effect occurs when energy from a planet’s host star goes through the atmosphere and warms the planet’s surface, but the atmosphere prevents the heat from returning directly to space, resulting in a warmer planet.

Drought Report

The Portuguese Institute of the Sea and Atmosphere (IPMA) released its report on the current drought situation (July 15). It said that 99.7% of the country is in severe or extreme drought: percentage distribution of the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) index: 0.3% in moderate drought, 50.8% in severe drought, and 48.9% in extreme drought.

IPMA also reported a decrease in the percentage of water in the soil throughout the territory. Standing out with areas of values less than 10% and equal to the wilting point are the North and Central regions, the Tagus Valley, and the districts of Castelo Branco, Setubal, Beja and Faro.

With regard to “precipitation, 2021/22, to date ranked as the second driest since 1931, after 2004/2005 (considering the period from October to July)”, according to IPMA.

The IPMA report continues:

“Driest years (total October to July) were: 2004/2005, 2021/22, 1998/99, 1944/45. . . . The accumulated precipitation value in the present hydrological year presents a deficit of -400 mm compared with the average value of 1971-2000. . . . ”

“Considering the total percentage of the territory in the most severe drought classes (severe and extreme) in July, it appears that the droughts of 2005 (73%) and 2012 (58%) had more than half of the territory in the extreme drought class, while the current drought presents a high percentage in the extreme drought class of 49% of the territory. . . .

“Taking into account the forecast for the next three weeks, the situation will likely continue to be drought throughout the territory.”

Israel Offers Help

In an opinion piece in Expresso (July 22), Israel’s ambassador to Portugal, Dor Shapira, offered her country’s help to Portugal in creating a holistic solution to save and produce water.

“As a child, I remember that news of drought was a constant and the Israelis prayed for rain while making sure they didn’t waste water. . . . Necessity has shaped the evolution of this sector over the last 70 years. To survive and develop, Israel had no option but to create a series of technologies and apply innovative practices that combines with structural, legislative and organizational reforms. . . .

“We legislated. We have a water and sewage law adapted to the terrain;

“We raise awareness from kindergarten to seniors. Water is a gem;

“We desalinate on a large scale. About 80% of all potable water for domestic use comes from five processing plants, and brackish water is used in agriculture;

“We reduce water losses in the national urban supply system. It is among the lowest in the world (5% to 8%);

“We strictly and continuously control the quality of the water;

“We purify and reuse. 95% of wastewater is purified and 87% reused for agriculture. Treated water returns to nature;

“We bet on precision irrigation. Drip was just the beginning and is also the best method for applying fertilizer in very specific doses. The development of less ‘thirsty’ agricultural varieties and the extraction of water from the air are also areas that we develop;

“We bet on water technology. It is constantly evolving. It wasn’t a miracle. . .

“This is where we can contribute as a country with one of the most advanced water systems in the world. More, it is our moral duty to share knowledge and experience to find the best solution for any place on earth.”

Ambassador Shapira continued in Expresso (July 22):

“Currently, Portugal has 66% of the country in extreme drought and 34% in severe drought. The gravity is such that the government is preparing new awareness campaigns for a more efficient and conscious use of water.

“Israel has the experience and the technology, and we are available to work with Portugal to find, more quickly, the best solutions to face the shortage of this good.

“We all have to act and we can do it together.”


(By the internationally acclaimed political cartoonist, Andre Carrilho)


Unrelenting Heatwave

Portugal’s heatwave could last until the end of summer, reported Expresso (July 29).

The village of Conuche, in Santarem, may even exceed the maximum temperature recorded in Europe, reaching 48 degrees Celsius (118.4 degrees Fahrenheit).

Orange and red alerts already have been given in almost every district of the country, indicating a severe or extreme weather situation. The most worrying aspect of the heat is its link with fires and risks to public health. The heat contributed to the deaths of more than 1,000 people from July 1 to July 21, reported Exame (July 21).

Expresso wrote: “The increase in mortality during the month of July is an example of the effect of heat on the most vulnerable of the populations, such as children and the elderly.

The Directorate-General of Health (DGS) recommended avoiding direct exposure to the sun from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., especially for sporting activities. It prioritizes drinking water to stay hydrated and airing out interior spaces when it is cool in the early morning and night.

Wildfires have been breaking out all over the country. On July 10, 1,000 firefighters and 14 airplanes and helicopters attacked blazes, reported SIC Noticias (July 10).

Unfortunately, many fires have reignited, often because of strong winds, after firefighters have had them under control. The fire at Vila Pouca de Aguia in Vila Real, for example, was in vigilance on July 31 at 20:56, concluded at 20:52, and in resolution on July 30 at 21:34 after starting on July 27. It was considered in resolution three times before, according to

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