Massive floods wiped out bridges and roads in Valencia Province 12 to 13 September 2019. Credit: Diputacio de Valencia (Provincial Council of Valencia)
Massive floods wiped out bridges and roads in Valencia Province 12 to 13 September 2019. Credit: Diputacio de Valencia (Provincial Council of Valencia)

by Richard Davies, floodlist and Fredrik Wetterhall, EFAS Computational Centre

Torrential rainfall from 11 to 14 September 2019 caused major flooding in southeastern Spain. Among the worst hit areas were Valencia, Alicante, Murcia, Albacete and Almería provinces.

Roads and schools were closed along with Murcia and Almería airports. More than 1,100 military personnel along with personnel from police, fire service, Civil Protection and Red Cross were deployed to assist flood-hit communities. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez visited affected areas on 14 September. A total of around 3,500 people were evacuated, including 2,000 residents of the town of Santomera in Murcia as a precaution due to a controlled release from a local dam. Seven people died in the floods and two fatalities were reported in Caudete in Albacete Province, two in Orihuela in Alicante Province, one in Almería and another in La Jámula in Granada. The body of a man who went missing in Dolores, Alicante Province, was found on 18 September.

Extreme precipitation recorded

According to AEMET Valencia, Ontinyent in Valencia Province recorded 296.4 mm of rain in 24 hours to 12 September. This equates to about half the yearly average and is the second highest daily rainfall total on record for Ontinyent, behind the 316.0mm which fell on 04 November 1987. Beniarrés in Alicante Province recorded 359mm of rain during the same period.

AEMET Spain said the intense rainfall was caused by a “Depresión Aislada en Niveles Altos”, sometimes referred to as DANA or gota fría. By 12 September several rivers had broken their banks. Around 40 people had to be rescued and 150 evacuated from their homes after the Clariano river in Ontinyent. Spain's Ministry for the Environment said record rainfall was reported in 6 locations and the rain in Vega Baja del Segura was the worst in over 100 years.

The overflowing Segura river caused major flooding in the town of Orihuela, Alicante Province, where 130 people were rescued, and 70 people evacuated. Flood waters left Orihuela isolated for several days. Flooding from the Cànyoles river in Moixent, Valencia Province, caused major material damages.

ECMWF extreme forecast index for precipitation from the 10 Sep 2019
ECMWF Extreme Forecast Index (EFI) for the period 10-15 September 2019, issued on the 10 September.

CEMS responses

The event was well forecasted by EFAS, and a total of 10 flash flood notifications and 2 formal flood notifications were sent out before the event. The ERIC flash-flood forecasts are based on COSMO-LEPS, and for this particular event it underestimated the total rainfall. However, the signal was strong enough to send out notifications. The ECMWF ensemble forecasts showed areas with 100% probability of over 150 mm rain over the next 10 days which covered the area, which was a stronger signal of an extreme event than for COSMO-LEPS for this event.

ERIC forecasts on 10 September 2019. Screenshot from
Screenshot from EFAS website 10 September 2019

On 12 September the Copernicus EMS Rapid Mapping module was activated by the Centro de Coordinación Operativa (CECOP) de la Dirección General de Protección Civil y Emergencias (Operational Coordination Centre of the Spanish Civil Protection).