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  • Writer's picture@ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood

Portugal: Worst Drought Status in 17 Years

“The 2005 drought was the one with the highest percentage of territories in the severe and extreme drought classes, but the current one (in 2022) is already very close to that of 2005,” said Vanda Cabrinha, an IPMA climatologist.


Since 2005, Portugal has not had so many regions in severe and extreme drought in the middle of winter, reported CNN Portugal (January 28).

Portuguese Institute of the Sea and Atmosphere (IPMA) data confirmed that the situation has worsened since the end of December.

As of December 31, 2021, IPMA data showed 27 percent of the country in moderate drought, a figure that doubled to 54 percent by January 25. The increase was even greater for severe drought: from 9 percent to 34 percent. Meanwhile, the mild drought figure dropped from 57.7 percent to 1 percent.

Also, extreme drought, which had not existed at the end of 2021, emerged in 11 percent of the mainland.

“The 2005 drought was the one with the highest percentage of territories in the severe and extreme drought classes, but the current one (in 2022) is already very close to that of 2005,” Vanda Cabrinha, an IPMA climatologist told CNN Portugal. “Even in the 2012 drought, which had a complicated situation, we were not in a situation as serious as it is now.”

There is no rain forecasted until at least February 15.

Extreme drought is affecting much of the Algarve and the Alentejo, while severe drought is extending to Setubal, Lisbon, Santarem, Leiria and part of Castelo Branco.

In central and northern Portugal, almost all the country is in moderate drought, although Peneda-Geres National Park is in mild drought.

Eduardo Oliveira e Sousa, president of Confederaçao dos Agricultores de Portugal (CAP), told the Expresso (January 28):

“In the countryside these days, ‘the crops are clinging to the ground’, say the farmers when they see that nothing grows for lack of water. And this is valid for what was grown in the autumn, such as cereals, but also for what will be grown in the coming months.

“Even the eucalyptus trees are thirsty,” said the CAP president, stressing that “the citrus trees are already feeling sick”. And the deciduous trees (apple, pears, cherry, peach and others), ending a cycle of hibernation already affected by a cold December, “will soon start to need water and, if there is no underground water, they will require irrigation, with the associated costs, higher costs because of the increase in energy prices.”

Climate change cannot be directly blamed for the drought, which is “part of a trend in recent years, since 2000, of an increase in the frequency and intensity of drought situations”, said IPMA’s Cabrinha, in SIC Noticias (January 18). The climatologist said:

“This is almost certainly a consequence of what is happening with climate change, the increase in dry periods, especially in the southern latitudes of Europe, including Portugal and Spain.”

In Portugal, 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). It was developed by meteorologist, Wayne Palmer, who first published his algorithmic method in 1965 for the United States Weather Bureau.

The SPI quantifies the deficit or excess of precipitation in different timescales, which reflects the impact of the drought on the availability of water. The smallest timescales, up to six months, refer to the meteorological and agricultural drought (precipitation and soil moisture deficit, respectively) and between nine and 12 months for hydrological drought with water scarcity reflected in the runoff and in reservoirs.

The SPI was formulated in 1993 at the Colorado Climate Center. Its purpose is to assign a single numeric value to the precipitation that can be compared across regions with markedly different climates.

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