Sunday, May 20, 2012

Whither the Weather?

     The Algarve is supposed to have one the best climates in the world. Well, it’s simply not good enough.
     Can you remember as far back as the first week of November last year? Winter got off to a rip-roaring start. A storm tore the roof off the terminal at Faro Airport and trashed vegetable greenhouses. Then, throughout the supposedly wettest months, we basked in sunshine, leaving orange groves gasping for liquid refreshment. A few spring showers came too late for the burgeoning broad beans.
     A friend of mine accepted an outdoor contract in late April. The nature of the work demanded dry, calm conditions. The conditions had been perfect all winter. The day his team started work, it started raining. It rained intermittently, sometimes heavily, for two weeks. When the rain stopped, it was replaced by gale-force winds. When the winds stopped, temperatures suddenly shot up to 40ºC – and it was only mid May! What is it going to be like in July and August?
     The climate is changing the world over. It would be surprising if it wasn’t. It’s been changing this way and that for about four billion years. It’s sure to continue to change whatever we do, or don’t do. We will either just have to get used it, or just  keep on moaning.
     While you are lying awake at night thinking of one more thing to worry about, consider this. Please concentrate. The temperature in Portugal has risen by an average of 1.2 degrees since 1930. Before that, it took a whole century to rise by 0.8 degrees.
     It may be all our own fault. Well, not ours exactly. It’s the fault of those daft people who send many billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere every year. 
     Whether or not it’s due partly, or mainly, to our carbon emissions, hotter and more prolonged summers could have alarming consequences. These could include making the Algarve as attractive to residents and foreign visitors as the Sahara desert.
     It’s bad enough that global warming is causing the far-away polar ice caps to melt. Now we learn that the Gulf Stream that warms our shore is likely to weaken by as much as 25% over the next 100 years.
     Some scientists are predicting that the Gulf Stream may disappear altogether. If so, it may get colder, not hotter, in the Algarve. Monchique could become a ski resort.
     Incidentally, no one is suggesting that temperatures might stay boringly more or less the same as at present.
     This is all very worrying for wine lovers. Viticulturists say that increased temperatures of around 2.0ºC during the growing season over the past 50 yeas have significantly helped improve the quality of vintages in all major wine-producing countries. Analysts expect the average growing season temperature to increase by another 2.0ºC in most wine countries over the next five decades – and by a whopping 2.85ºC here in southern Portugal.
     Now for the really bad news. Grape varieties have been carefully selected to suit the climate in which they are grown. If the Algarve becomes a desert and the grapes frizzle, we might have to import our wine from Britain!


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