Rainfall deficit in Flanders historically high, with increasing damage to biodiversity
The precipitation deficit in Flanders has risen to 250 millimetres since 1 April, or 250 litres of water per square metre. This appears from figures that VRT NWS has requested from hydrologist Patrick Willems (KU Leuven) and the KMI. This brings us close to the drought of the summer of 1976. At the same time, our fauna and flora are increasingly suffering from extreme drought.
The figure of 250 millimetres is an average for the whole of Flanders, based on data from various measuring points. It is mainly Limburg, West- and East-Flanders that are affected by the drought, while parts of the province of Antwerp are slightly better off. Nevertheless, the figures remain extremely meagre.
The precipitation deficit is calculated using a simple formula: evaporation minus precipitation. The more evaporation and the less precipitation, the higher the deficit. A lot of sunshine and higher temperatures increase evaporation and thus the deficit. April, May and June were very sunny months, with a fifth more sunshine (240 hours instead of about 200) and particularly high evaporation.
Occurence of dry summers
The occurrence of dry summers is not in itself exceptional, if only once every 20 or 30 years. Nevertheless, in recent years we have had one dry summer after another. Only the wet summer of 2021 was an exception.
Various animal and plant species are increasingly suffering from the exceptional drought. Butterflies and frogs, for example, are finding it difficult to survive. A few days ago, it was also announced that trees are already starting to lose their leaves as protection against the drought, which is far too early for the time of year.
In De Morgen, Professor Verheyen points out the importance of trees. "Extreme consequences of drought can be that certain tree species die off at some point. The resilience of trees and forests is not infinite. With annual drought, they become depleted, more susceptible to diseases and pests and will eventually die. With climate change, forests become more sensitive, trees start to grow less, so they absorb less CO2 from the air, further exacerbating climate change."
Meanwhile, the drought is also making itself felt in the back garden, reports De Standaard on Monday. As a result of 'Curieuzeneuzen in de Tuin', the project of De Standaard in collaboration with the University of Antwerp that investigates how we can better deal with the consequences of increasingly hot and dry summers, the lawns in Flanders were examined. The grass is already browner than at this time last year, and that points to a bigger problem.
It is not just lawns that are suffering. The heat island effect, where cities are significantly warmer than the surrounding area, is greater this year. On the warmest nights this year, the difference was up to 3.5 degrees. Last year it was only 1.5 degrees. This is probably also a direct result of the drought.
© BELGA PHOTO JAMES ARTHUR GEKIERE - Illustration picture shows dry grass pictured in Sint-Martens-Latem, on Wednesday 27 July 2022. Severe droughts are effecting Europe since the beginning of the year.