Wild Wind

January 31st, 2009 | Written by Lucy Brzoska.

Written by Lucy Brzoska

 

The strongest winds in Catalonia are the Tramuntana in the north and Mistral in the south. Barcelona, halfway down the coast, usually escapes their full force, while enjoying sparking clear skies when they blow. But Saturday, January 25th was different.

For hours and hours, the wind tried to tear everything from its place. Lights dimmed, threatening to go out, and above the general din, sirens of firemen to the rescue were constant. Eventually the pauses between gusts grew longer, and their direction shifted from west to north, leaving people to face the consequences, in lives lost and property destroyed.

The next day, the force of the gale was writ large in Collserola. Nearly all the toppled trees were Aleppo pines (Pinus halepensis) – the Pino Carrasco. Some had snapped, but most lay uprooted with great wedges of earth lifted out of the ground. Puny-looking pines on high exposed ridges were supple enough to survive.

It must’ve been terrifying – the roar amplified in the canopy, trees crashing erratically like columns in an earthquake. In the city you needed to dodge the falling plant pots, here you would’ve been continuously pelted by pine cones and branches. Walking was now a crunchy affair, with tons of debris strewn everywhere. All tracks and paths required climbing and squeezing. Some of the narrow ones were impassable, deeply filled with trunks and branches.

After the mayhem, the morning was luminous and still. The wind in the city had been devastating, but in the woods it’s a force of regeneration. Sitting on a fallen tree in a secluded path, sunlight twanging the gossamer, I listened to woodpeckers tapping and tits calling, while a Pekin robin scolded me vigorously through a tangle of branches. It was business as usual.

The sun felt much warmer than of late, with a noticeable increase in insects. When a butterfly settled on the ground, I thought it looked rather tattered. But it was a Nettle tree butterfly (Libythea celtis),whose indented wings make it harder to spot when closed, just out of hibernation.

Facts

The gales were caused by an explosive cyclogenesis in the Atlantic, which transformed a small storm born in the Appalachians.

Wind speeds of over 100km/h were recorded in the city centre of Barcelona.

8 people were killed in Catalonia, including 4 children.