The weather app on my mobile phone is telling me that there is a chance of rain this coming week. I’m looking forward to hearing the sound of it hitting my roof, maybe even using the windscreen wipers on my car – if I remember how to turn them on.
It’s been about two months since we’ve had any rain here in central Portugal. All around me there are signs that nature is suffering as a result. Leaves on the many fruit trees are parched and drooping. The apples, pears and persimmons, normally so abundant at this time of year, are scarce and tiny. Vineyards which have been irrigated sport clusters of grapes that are already dark and ripe; weeks earlier than normal. On the vines that haven’t been watered the grapes are just wizened raisins.
This is my fourth summer in Portugal. Up to now, the summers haven’t been as hot as those I was used to in Albuquerque. All that changed this year. July was the hottest summer on record, with the temperature hitting an all-time-high of 47 Celsius (116.6 F) in Pinhão, northern Portugal on July 14. We endured many days of 38 C-plus, (triple-digit temperatures in Fahrenheit.) I don’t have air-conditioning but I was thankful for my stone house and the ceiling fans I had installed.
The blistering heat followed on an abnormally dry winter. By early July, 45 percent of the Portuguese mainland was in extreme draught. Then came the fires!
Every few days for about three weeks I would look out and see huge plumes of smoke billowing nearby. Thankfully the Portuguese firefighters, Bombeiros, respond rapidly and sound of helicopters or fixed-wing aircraft bringing water to douse the flames was almost a daily occurrence.
So now it is September and the prospect of rain is tantalizingly real. It can’t come soon enough for many people. A friend of mine who lives in the Alentejo region, south of Lisbon, depends on wells which are almost dry. She’s been forced to ration her showers to once a week and is contemplating having to buy bottled water for her horses!