Drought in northern Italy - March 2022
A severe drought has been affecting northern Italy and the Po River basin in particular. Dry conditions are related to a persistent lack of precipitation since December 2021.
The severe precipitation deficit is already affecting water resources. Water competition from different sectors is likely to start sooner than usual, particularly at the beginning of the irrigation period, usually expected to start in April (e.g. for rice). Drought is already impacting the stored water volume for energy production in the Italian hydropower system. Most of the reservoirs are below the minimum historical values (1970-2019) since September 2021. The latest data shows an amount of stored energy of 774 GWh at the beginning of March 2022, 27.5% less than the 8-year minimum (1068 GWh in 2021).
Poor snow accumulation is estimated by the Snow Water Equivalent indicator (40% of the 2009-2021 median conditions), with extremely low values in the southern Alps during winter. Warmer winter temperature also contributed to the reduced snow accumulation. These conditions cause concerns for melting snow contribution to river discharges in late spring, increasing the likelihood of hydrological drought in the coming months.
Due to a slightly warmer than usual winter season, an early start of the growing season corresponds to better than normal conditions for vegetation growth in the region. However, the lack of precipitation may cause severe impacts as soon as re-growth takes up speed in spring.
Drier than normal conditions are forecasted for most of Italy (and southern Europe in general) for the next three months. This makes it less probable that abundant precipitation will bring relief to the current situation, and it rises concerns about widespread and concurrent impacts.
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