Alarm bells are already ringing as at least ten reservoirs are currently less than half full, a third of the country is in a state of severe meteorological drought, and swathes of southern Portugal are already experiencing extreme meteorological drought.

Last month, most of mainland Portugal was experiencing meteorological drought, with the amount of territory in a state of severe or critical conditions rising month-on-month due to the below-average rainfall.

In comments to Lusa News Agency, Vanda Pires, a climatologist with the Portuguese IPMA met office, said that on 28 March, 37 percent of Portugal was in a state of severe meteorological drought, which is brought on by dry weather and usually precedes other types of drought, such as hydrological and agricultural drought.

That figure is up significantly on the 4.8 percent registered in February.

“In February there was no extreme drought but in March, although low, 0.5 percent [of the territory] was experiencing extreme drought. It has started to be felt in the Algarve, between Faro and Vila Real de Santo António”, she said.

Vanda Pires also said that the month March 2019 has been classified as ‘hot’ with regards to air temperature, and very dry in terms of rainfall.

As of 28 March , the average maximum air temperature was 19.24 degrees Celsius, the third highest since 2000, according to the IPMA’s latest climatology bulletin.

With regard to rainfall, the IPMA said that March 2019 was the seventh driest since 2000 – carrying over from the fourth driest winter of this century and, she predicts, the dry weather will stretch into April.

“Rain is forecast, but nothing significant that will help quench the drought. For the month of April, the models show below normal values especially in the first weeks, which is not at all favourable to the drought situation”, she explained.

In her view, the month of April could be decisive in reducing the levels of drought, but only if there is intense and prolonged rainfall.
“April usually brings rain. If it does not, the tendency is [for drought] to aggravate, since the months of May and June are months of low precipitation, and even if it does occur it will not be enough to end the drought”, she elaborated.

The IPMA specialist recalled that Portugal was also in severe drought in February 2018, but as it rained heavily last March, the situation was inverted.

Reflecting on the phenomena as a whole, Ms. Pires concludes that episodes of drought in Portugal have become increasingly frequent since 2000, and the outlook is expected to worsen as a result of climate change and the increasing frequency of extreme weather events.

Highlighting the grave consequences of droughts on agriculture and livestock, energy and the general well-being of populations, she said: “Climate change is making drought situations more serious and more common.

“The extreme phenomena that we have witnessed in recent times are happening more often and cause greater impact. The rise in temperature - which has occurred over the last decades - has implications for the entire meteorological system as it stands and thus entails heat waves, drought, and lack of rainfall” she explained.

According to the IPMA expert, these phenomena will be increasingly frequent along the Mediterranean latitude as “the geographical location of our country is favourable to the occurrence of episodes of drought”.

“We will have more frequent and intense droughts, in a context of climate change, and higher temperatures”, she reiterated.
The Met Office’s warning comes as recent figures from the Portuguese Environment Agency (APA) show that while 14 of the 60 reservoirs monitored in mainland Portugal had water resources above 80 percent of the total capacity at the end of last month, ten were below 40 percent.

The APA said that on 31 March, and compared to 28 February, despite an increase in the volume of water stored in seven river basins – noting that each river basin may correspond to more than one reservoir – water levels fell in five others.

The five river basins in which drops were registered were Ribeiras do Oeste, Guadiana, Mira, Barlavento and Arade.

Overall, and with the exception of one basin, the Ave basin, the water stored in March 2019 was lower than the benchmark averages of March 1990/91-2017/18.

The APA points out that, compared to March 2018, the water levels in March 2019 are lower, but noted that last year “rainfall was far higher than normal”.

Consequently, Portugal’s farmers have already started to feel the effects of the dry weather, and have reached out to the government for help.

The president of Portuguese Confederation of Farmers (CAP) said that because of the drought, animal fodder is starting to pose a problem, which is being reflected in the farmers’ income, and called on the government to take action.

“Everything that has to do with animal feed is becoming a problem […]. At the moment, the Southern region is the worst affected, along with Trás-os-Montes.

“The Ribatejo region is also starting to feel the effects and, if there is no rain in the next few days, it won’t take long before the pastures dry up completely” Eduardo Oliveira e Sousa warned.

According to Mr. Oliveira e Sousa, the lack of water is already taking a toll on farmers’ incomes as they have to buy rations and dry food for their animals to supplement the parched pastures.

He reasoned: “This all has costs, and there is another problem that is the difficulty in finding these products, which are limited. Portugal is not a very large country and its structure is set up so that animal feed is aided by these products at certain times, but not for most of the year”.