Wednesday, September 10, 2014

When It Rains, It Rains

The German language possesses words which reflect a German characteristic of straightforwardness and directness and a further one of the mysterious. This vocabulary is especially evident when it comes to the weather. What a magnificent word "Unwetter" is. Un-weather. It is brilliant in its clarity, simplicity and lack of complication. It says it all. Then there is "Gewitter", a word spoken with a sense of foreboding, of the gods of Germanic mythology stirring violently and unleashing a terrible force across the land. Both words are applied to storms, though "Unwetter" is more a state of turbulent and bad weather rather than the specifically horrific storm that can be "Gewitter". I have experienced the summer "Gewitter" in the steamy south of Germany on more than occasion. You know it is coming. The wind suddenly picks up from nothing and within only a short few moments the skies change. The speed with which the storm hits and the violence it unleashes over the Central European land mass are awesome to behold, except if you happen to be caught up in it.

The Spanish "tormenta", with its implication of the tortures of the Inquisition, is frighteningly apt because of that implication. My, how vocabulary can describe the mental state that storms provoke, either through literal implication or through onomatopoeic suggestion, and German and Spanish do so far more strongly than English. The monosyllabic "storm" lacks a potency. A storm brews, just as tea does. It is a more sedate state of turbulence.

We are in the season for the Mallorcan storm. If there is any predictability with weather, it is that the island is going to be subjected to the torment of the tormenta at its most inquisitional, and it typically occurs around the middle of September. The high humidity and the paraffin-vaporous great heat of this September, the great warmth of the sea surrounding the island: the elements are there. The perfect storm is not brewing, it is being slowly and maliciously stirred before the whips of frenzy finally crack from an apocalyptic sky.

Local terminology requires us to believe that there is a "gota fría", a cutesy meteorological expression which massively understates what this cold drop can be. Strangely enough perhaps, given the German linguistic propensity for playing up the power of storms, it is a term which owes everything to German - the "Kaltlufttropfen". But even the understated in German sounds worrying and vaguely mythical, as though the Brothers Grimm invented weather.

Though the middle of September is often when the "gota" makes its coldness evident, it can be earlier or later. Just recently, we experienced the 25th anniversary of the 1989 weather event, one so extreme that five lives were lost and almost 200 litres per square metre of rain fell within two hours along the eastern part of Mallorca. It was 6 September in 1989. The anniversary has passed. We are waiting for the 2014 version, and we might well be waiting with some trepidation.

Of course, anyone who can claim an association of some years with Mallorca can point to the dramas that nature has for us in late summer and early autumn. Take 2003, for instance, a summer that was excruciatingly hot. The highs actually peaked in June, around 40 degrees, and didn't fail to exceed 30 degrees for weeks and weeks until, right on cue at the change of the month, 31 August brought with it a change. Bang, crash, wallop. "Donner und Blitzen". Or take another example. That of 4 October, 2007. The "cap de fibló" tornado which claimed the life of a worker at Son Espases, ripped roofs off buildings on the Can Valero industrial estate and hurled along a route mapped out by the motorway heading northwards. The damage was great as the swirling blackness of meteo-four horsemen of the apocalypse propelled itself with what seemed like the speed of sound.

Though there are extreme weather events, they tend not to repeat themselves with such ferocity too often. This, though, was not the case after the 1989 event. The following year, a month or so later in early October, there were the disastrous rains which affected the north of the island particularly badly. So bad were the floods that the army had to be mobilised. The city of lakes that is Alcúdia became the city of the lake. It was impossible to see where lake or canal finished and where road or pavement was supposed to be. This did, though, lead to a greater appreciation for the need to attempt to limit flood damage. 

When it rains, it does indeed rain. The season is with us. We should be scouring the maps of the AEMET meteorological office for the signs. The tormenta will be with us. It's a case of when and how fierce. My, how we love to talk about the un-weather.


Unknown said...

Fantastic emotive article.I love the storms and you have me looking skywards in anticipation.

andrew said...

Thanks, Mark. I appreciate your comment, Andrew