Thursday, August 12, 2010

The terrible Terral

A helicopter douses flames just behind the village.  The pilots do a remarkable job flying with all that water and the drag it creates on the aircraft. 

IT INVARIABLY strikes us foreigners as strange, when on a very, very hot day, the Spanish will shut all their windows and doors. Just the opposite of what you’d expect. Leaving everything opens means a welcome breeze can flow through your house. Except when the terral starts. Then it is no breeze, it is a blast of blistering hot, dry air. “Terral” whispers one neighbour to another. “Viene terral” (terral is coming), shouts the next to another as they all scuttle inside to shut up the houses, lower the blinds and stay off the streets.

There are several kinds of terral but the one that is loathed here, on the southern coast of Spain is that which comes in from the west, over Portugal then turns sharp right and comes bearing down on us from the north, across the scorched land of the Iberian peninsula, bringing with it extremely hot, dry temperatures.

If you have never experienced terral – a near enough comparison is to heat up your oven and then when it reaches top temperature open the door. That blast of scorching hot, dry air is what you feel when you step outside the aircon here on a terral day.

So there we were last night, The Hockey Star and I happily settled in our comfortably cool aircon watching The Tudors (boy, are we’re hooked on this series at the moment) when – blaff – out goes the electricity.

The fact that last night was the first official feria evening when the mayor proudly hits the switch to light up our fairground with thousands of non energy-saving light bulbs meant that we were almost expecting a power cut. But as time dragged on and I lit my ready supply of candles, (nowhere in western Europe are there power cuts as frequently as in our village) we realised that we were in for the long haul and that it wasn’t the fair but the fact that it was the hottest night this year and everyone was using aircon or fans. Or had been. Sleepless, restless, sweaty, uncomfortable, gasping night. The electricity came back at 6am and the temperature outside was already 32ºC/90ºF.

Terral is ideal fire weather and no sooner said than done. Thick, white smoke and flames could be seen from the office mid morning as the mountainside above the motorway caught fire. Odds on it was a cigarette butt flung from some caring citizen’s car window. Fires by the motorway invariably are.

In the meantime, fingers crossed for tonight . let's hope the local power grid is up to the challenge - think I might try and get some sleep while we have aircon. Just in case.

Weather today: Ghastly. So hot and dry that I can feel the hairs in my nostrils crisping up. Severe weather warning: Yellow alert for heatwave (Yesterday was orange alert and highs of 42ºC/108ºF – Bluurgh). High 38ºC/100ºF. Low 25ºC/77ºF (Met Office erring on the side of caution). Northeasterly breeze 18 km/h this morning after last night’s gales. Changing to southerly 22km/h this afternoon which will hopefully bring lower temperatures. Pressure 1012 mb and stable. Relative humidity 33%. Officially zilch chance of rain. UV Index 9. Snow above 3,700 m – and yes, there is still snow on the Sierra Nevada. Information source: AEMET. Silly comments: Yours truly.