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Extreme Weather Phenomena in Greece “Become More Intense”

Extreme weather Greece
The severe weather front called Ballos  affected Greece last week. Credit: AMNA

Greece has seen extreme weather phenomena for the past 30 to 40 years, but their duration and intensity was nothing like what we are seeing today as part of climate change, weather expert and emeritus professor at the University of Athens Christos Zerefos told Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA-MPA) in an interview on Saturday.

The world-renowned academician said that the rainfall last Thursday, the day the storm “Ballos” began, “we saw in some regions of Greece rain that in a few hours reached 1/3 of the amount of rainfall we get in an entire year. This is an extreme phenomenon.”

Ballos claimed the life of one person on the island of Evia after the 70-year-old was carried away by rushing waters during the storm.

Referring to the heatwaves experienced more frequently in recent years, Zerefos said that “a heatwave like that we saw throughout Greece this summer – which lasted over 10 days – is an extreme phenomenon.”

In early August the heatwave broke the country’s highest-ever temperature record. A jaw-dropping 46.3 degrees Celsius (115.3 degrees Fahrenheit) was recorded in the town of Makrakomi in Greece’s Phthiotis region during that event.

Heatwaves before 1987 lasted one or two days and simply were not as hot, he explained – the heatwave of 2007 was worse, and that of 2021 even more so. “The increase of these phenomena does not follow a linear progression, but is exponential,” Zerefos warned.

These quick alternations of extreme weather phenomena are not unique to Greece, he added, but are part of climate change on the entire planet. Human beings must change their habits, as scientists have been warning for years, because the extreme will become usual — and when this occurs there will be no return, the professor noted.

On the other hand, the torrential rains that occur will not make up for the gradually increasing dry spells in the country. As he explained to ANA-MPA, “If we do nothing, there are estimates that see as much as a 15% reduction in rainfall in Greece, but this does not mean there won’t be extreme rainstorms, like the one we experienced on Thursday.” According to scientific estimates, rainfall will drop by nearly 15% overall in the entire East Mediterranean.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report released on August 9 clearly states that Greece should expect more heat waves, weaker winds and less overall precipitation in the future. And at the same time, beaches and coastlines will be lost as sea levels rise.

How can the state, civilians prepare for extreme weather?

Focusing on prevention and respect of nature by the average person is key to preparing for extreme weather, the professor said, and “civilians must adapt to the new destabilized climate.” This means avoiding going out when the forecast is for extreme weather, and “not fighting nature – the rivulet we cross by car daily, especially in rural areas, could turn into a torrent, which no vehicle can withstand when the water depth is over 40cm (15.7 inches).”

In Greece, in particular, “the state must better organize the diversion of rainwater, especially as our country has a lot of large sloping surfaces, a complicated terrain and unauthorized construction, leading to many obstacles in the diversion of rainwater – generally there is a lot that needs to be done.”

Zerefos welcomed the active use of the emergency alerts sent through the 112 number on cellphones, and the restructuring using the Army, the Fire Brigade and other services. “I think everything should be guided by a single word – prevention,” he concluded.

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