Answering the question of what has been the greatest snowfall in the history of Spain is not easy. The seed of the State Meteorological Agency, or Aemet, did not begin to germinate until 1887, when it received the name of Central Meteorological Institute. Before that, the testimonies and writings were mixed in voices that did not allow to establish accurate data on the subject. Thus, this list aims to mention some of the snowfalls in Spain that have had more impact since the late 19th century. Snowfalls that have left their white trail tattooed in the memories of those who experienced them as unusual. Seasons that left moments, some good and some not so good, but unforgettable.
‘I remember another time, a winter day. There was such a heavy snowfall that all the roads were eraased. It looked like a village of dwarfs, with their white bonnets on the chimneys and their beards of ice hanging on the roofs’. With these words Alejandro Casona describes the Nevadona in La Dama del Alba, a snowfall that occurred in 1888 in Asturias and Cantabria that he had always heard about.
What is also known as the snowfall of the three eights was, more than a snowfall, several. The first flakes fell on February 14 and the storm did not end until after the 22nd… of March! In between there were, of course, a few days of truce.
That heavy snowfall was also accompanied by strong blizzards that, when the thaw began, resulted in avalanches and landslides. Cristina García Hernández, geographer and author of the thesis Las nevadas de 1888 en el Macizo Asturiano, estimates that 42 people died in the Nevadona, in addition to nearly 20,000 head of livestock and more than a thousand buildings.
It may seem to the people of Madrid that the snowfall that devastated the capital in the year 2020 was the greatest of all. It was certainly an unusual event that had not been repeated since at least 1971. But if the magnitude of the snowfall is measured by its thickness and duration, the 1904 storm, always counting from 1888, wins, always counting from 1888. In Philomena, snow accumulated up to 40 centimeters. In the snowfall of 1904, up to one and a half meters of snow accumulated in some places. ‘It was something unusual and unique,’ says the Aemet.
On this occasion the ephemeris began on November 27 and did not cease until the 30th, completely collapsing the normal functioning of the city. Trains, streetcars and cars stopped running. The Spanish newspaper El Imparcial reported the appearance of Madrid as follows: ‘The tracks were almost solitary, many stores were closed, the cafés were not very crowded, yesterday the theatrical performances were suspended, telephone communication was interrupted, most of the neighbors were locked in their homes… Madrid begins the last month of the year like a dead town buried under immense blocks of marble’.
What for the north of the peninsula may be a snowfall without any kind of transcendence, for other places it can be a historical event. This is what happened in the Christmas of 1926 in the east in general and in Alicante in particular. The province then experienced what was for them the biggest snowfall of the twentieth century. In the city of Alicante accumulated up to 20 centimeters of snow, which is a lot, considering that it never snows there. In addition, there were other areas of the province where the thickness was much greater. It was in the sanctuary of Font Roja, near Alcoy and at high altitude, where the thickness accumulated up to two meters of snow.
For the people from Alicante, few accustomed to these trots, the snow also brought them inconveniences. Some villages in the Alcoy mountain range were cut off from communication in the days immediately following the snowfall. Alcoy and Murcia were also isolated for some days. Likewise, there were problems in public lighting, electricity supply and, of course, in the crop fields. ‘We cannot fail to mention the particularly serious repercussions on homes and industrial facilities at those points where snow thicknesses approached or exceeded one meter in thickness,’ says geographer Enrique Moltó in his book Riesgos Naturales.
If it is already unusual to see snow falling in Alicante, in the Balearic Islands it is rarer, as the saying goes, than a green dog. 1956 is known in the country as the Year of the Snow or the year of the cold. A Siberian cold wave covered not only the Iberian Peninsula, but all of Europe. In those days the Spanish thermometers plummeted as rarely before and the cold record was broken at the Pyrenean observatory Estany Gento, an event that has not yet been officially surpassed, although unofficially.
Although in many places the storm was only felt in the form of unusual frosts, in the Balearic Islands, especially in Mallorca, the cold wave resulted in one of the heaviest snowfalls as never seen again. All the municipalities of the island were covered in white and temperatures reached -13º. The snow was present for at least 17 days and reached 60 centimeters in some places.
All this brought, naturally, a multitude of problems. The Menorcan Miguel Perea Cavaller recalled in the newspaper Menorca the storm: ‘The first day was a novelty and also seemed nice, but as the days passed it was a disaster, because in addition to freezing and the danger of falling, the dirt in the streets and houses was unpleasant and more without appropriate clothing and footwear’.
On Christmas 1962 almost all of Spain was below freezing. Thermometers in cities like Pamplona and Burgos reached -15º. But only in Catalonia was this freezing weather accompanied by snowfall. As if it were a gift, good or bad, on December 25 it did not stop snowing in the Catalan capital throughout the day. Layers of half a meter of snow buried the streets of Barcelona on a day that some took advantage of to ski down the Rambla or snowmen in the Plaza de Catalunya.
But snowfalls, as we know, always bring an unpleasant side. The festive nature of the day, the initial doubts about its scope and the lack of means and reflexes engendered inaction. Thus, Barcelona, which is not used to such snowfalls, did not fully recover from the event until after a month. Newspapers of the time recounted how some firefighters were in charge of transferring dozens of pregnant women to hospitals or taking the dead to cemeteries, the El Prat airport was closed for four days…
One of the unusual events that took place during those days was the call of the Francoist mayor José María Porcioles to the exiled in Andorra, and linked to ERC, Andreu Claret Casadessús with the intention of asking him for help. Specializing at the time in mountain communications, Claret brought 13 snow machines to Barcelona that cleared the streets of snow and rescued more than 3,000 vehicles. All this, at least, according to a Spanish newspaper. A desperate solution to snowfalls that, for the moment, has not been repeated.
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