The Tenerife winter drought 2011-2012 was a nightmare for Canary Islands farmers

Drought in winter in the Canary Islands

Here in Tenerife in the Canary Islands the late autumn and winter is the rainy season. It is when Mt Teide gets snow on its peak, often for several months, but not this time!

Tenerife can expect heavy rainfall and thunderstorms that fall as snow on very high ground from late October through into March of the following year but this has not happened. Already the scrub-land vegetation high on Mt Teide is dying or dead. At lower levels on the island, the prickly pear cacti are shrivelling up and wilting in the ongoing heat and lack of rain. When cacti are experiencing problems from lack of water something is seriously going wrong!

Wilting cactus

Prickly Pear in Tamaimo, Tenerife, wilting in the drought. Photo by S Andrews
Prickly Pear in Tamaimo, Tenerife, wilting in the drought. Photo by S Andrews

Climate Change

According to a report dated October 27, 2011, by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Climate Change is probably responsible for winter droughts which are currently affecting areas around the Mediterranean. The reports states: "Wintertime droughts are increasingly common in the Mediterranean region, and human-caused climate change is partly responsible, according to a new analysis by NOAA scientists and colleagues at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES)."

Bordering the Mediterranean

The countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea also normally receive their heaviest rainfall in the autumn and winter, just like Tenerife and the Canary Islands normally do. A severe shortage of water at this time can only spell disaster for farmers faced with drought restrictions and no way of watering their crops.

In Tenerife there have been occasions when there has been a shortage of rainfall in October, November and/or December, and other times when January has had little rain but it is very rare indeed for there to be a shortage of precipitation in both parts of the autumn and winter seasons.

Vegetation on Mt Teide

Dying and dead vegetation on Mt Teide. Photo by S Andrews
Dying and dead vegetation on Mt Teide. Photo by S Andrews

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Tenerife winter drought hits hard

Tenerife's Mt Teide is the highest mountain in all of Spain because the Canary Islands are Spanish. It is usually attractively covered in gleaming white snow on its peak and slopes from November onward and sometimes the snow is still on the highest parts as late as May. Often it is possible to spend a White Christmas on the island, at least up on the mountain, but not this time around.

The rainfall that fell last autumn was not enough to help the plants that grow there to recover from the usual summer dry spell and many are now dying or dead. Shrubs are tinder dry and crumble to dust. This really is a serious problem!

Several very rare species of endemic wild flower grow up on the higher levels of Mt Teide and these plants that are already endangered are sure to be in even worse trouble from the winter drought. The Teide Violet (Viola cheiranthifolia) grows in the volcanic rubble right up on the summit of Teide and this is the only place in the world where it is found. Another very rare and very attractive plant is the Red Viper's Bugloss (Echium wildpretii), or Tajinaste rojo as it is known in Spanish. In the flowering season, with its tall flowering spikes of red blooms it is one of the attractions of Mt Teide, and again it is only found at this location.

Below the higher levels of Mt Teide are pine forests and cloud forests made up of laurels and other evergreens but even the usual "sea of clouds" that keeps these areas damp has been missing.

Lower down again in the farming areas and on the coasts it is so dry that prickly pear cacti and succulents such as the houseleeks (Aeonium species) are having a hard time and are shrivelled and wilted. The winter is the growing and flowering season but this cannot happen without water.

In the usually drier and warmer south of the island in usual winters the volcanic hills there go green with vegetation and the north of the island becomes really luxuriant with plants and trees all at their best. This year many plants are brown and dead or dying. The ground is parched.

Grape farmers, and those growing other crops including bananas, have had serious trouble in recent years due to summer droughts but a winter drought is a new an unexpected problem. Obviously without water nothing will grow and even the toughest plants that are drought-resistant can only stand so much.

It is impossible to predict how bad this could get unless rains arrive soon. Water is still being used unwisely to water lawns and golf courses. What will happen when it starts to run out later on in the year as it is sure to do if it isn't replenished in sufficient amounts and soon?

Drought in the UK

The UK which is used to getting droughts in summer when there is a serious lack of rainfall is experiencing a shortage of rain and snow in autumn and winter too. Coupled with unusually mild temperatures this has resulted in flowers like daffodils blooming way ahead of their usual time for doing so. This flower has been seen in December in some parts whereas usually its yellow blooms appear in February and March. In Wales it is often used as an emblem to mark St David's Day on 1 March.

BBC Report

The BBC has reported on this drought problem and has explained that unless there is sufficient rainfall the problem which began last year will continue into 2012. The Environment Agency for England and Wales has stated that even if an average rainfall over the winter and spring period occurs that areas of central, eastern and south-eastern England are not likely to recover in full this year.

The British public hate hose-pipe bans that are enforced as drought restrictions in the summer but ways of combating the problem are having to be found before then.

Lack of rainfall is a disaster for many farmers but also has a terrible effect on many forms of wildlife. Ponds, lakes, reservoirs, streams and rivers that are low and not filling up will not be able to sustain the flora and fauna that depend on having a freshwater habitat.

People in the UK always moan about the terrible wet weather the country often gets but this year the rainfall is really needed!


Since this was originally written the year has become worse. The drought has continued, crops are dying, and on top of that Tenerife has been ravaged by fierce forest fires that made international news headlines.

A great deal of much-needed water was used in the fire-fighting efforts that went on for over a week and now there are reservoirs that are almost dry.

The residents of the island are praying for the usual autumn rains, and hopefully as soon as possible!


© 2012 Steve Andrews

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Comments 16 comments

CASE1WORKER profile image


Another fantastic hub addressing a worrying situation. It rained all day today in the UK, thank goodness!, but the situation in Tenerife looks really bad- I do hope you get rain soon

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 5 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thank you! We need torrential rain and many days of it which the island normally gets to make good the lack of water here. We have had really light showers over the last few days and nowhere near enough. The almond trees come into bloom next month but unless we have rains they won't be anywhere near their normal glorious state.

kj force profile image

kj force 5 years ago from Florida

Thanks for sharing a great article...We here in Florida are surrounded by fires, the smell permeates the air, which in turn kills the birds/small animals and stresses the horses/livestock.A few months back we not only lost trees and plants to a fire on our property, but,many squirrels,birds and small animals.We need rain desperately.It is anything but tropical looking here, brown and dry is everywhere and this does not help the oranges grooves which are all around us.

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 5 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Sorry to hear what it is like where you are!

amithak50 profile image

amithak50 4 years ago from India

This is really very frustrating when we don't have water to do irrigation,for drinking purposes ..Drought is like a menace

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 4 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

I agree with what you have posted! Thank you!

snakeslane profile image

snakeslane 4 years ago from Canada

Hi Bard, I just saw in this morning's Guardian there is a big fire in Tenerife, and 90 villagers have been evacuated. Sure hope you're alright and firefighters have it under control.

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 4 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

It's nowhere near here but is very depressing all the same and the fires were still burning today!

snakeslane profile image

snakeslane 4 years ago from Canada

Glad to hear you are safe Bard, but so sorry this is happening. Fires cause huge devastation every summer where I live too (but not anywhere near me). And further south right now (in the US) there are big fires out of control. I've been told Siberia is burning too. Smoke from those fires has left a haze along the coast here.

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 4 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Unfortunately for the whole world we need more trees not less and the ones that can grow back will take years to do so! This is a very serious issue!

watergeek profile image

watergeek 4 years ago

Hi Bard of Ely - This is a very descriptive hub, useful as an illustration of one I wrote on the rain cycle. People need to see the graphic effects of our disturbance of nature, so I hope you don't mind if I include a link to it!

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 4 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thank you very much and please do!

Derdriu 4 years ago

Bard of Ely, Climate change has worldwide impacts. According to statistics, two areas most heavily affected are the polar regions and the three parallel rivers area in southwest China (where, for example, yak herders are finding more shrubs -- which are noxious to animals -- growing than traditional grasses).

It's challenging to second-guess the best actions to put into effect or the best policies to pursue in the face of uncertainty over exactly how severe the changes will be when and where. But factors which certainly don't help the situation are clearing the land without re-seeding and compacting the soil with over-fertilizing. These two factors make it difficult for percolation into the soil during the flash flood/storm events which recently have been the forms that rainfall events tend to take.

The water cycle involves a fixed amount of water. The amount of water still is the same nowadays. The difference is the form it takes and where it can (or not) be accessed.


Respectfully, and with many thanks for sharing, Derdriu

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 4 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thank you for your great feedback, Derdriu! Fortunately for this island the rains have come again this winter but Mt Teide is not covered in snow as is normal for this time of year.

watergeek profile image

watergeek 4 years ago

Bard of Ely - Have you ever heard of Pseudomonas syringae? It's an ice-nucleating bacteria that grows on common crops like tomatoes and tea, and creates rain when its colonies are blown up into the atmosphere. There's a tea plantation in Eastern Tanzania that gets hailed on several times a year. It's the only area there that does. I wish I could send you a link but . . . . You can find out a little in Wikipedia. Anyway, I've been imagining an island like yours cultivating the bacteria with support crops to see if you could get it to rain there.

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 4 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

No never heard of it but sounds like a natural means of geo-engineering and cloud seeding that so many are worried about! To get the authorities to act on this though is another matter!

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