Fallen trees, poles, traffic lights, building facades, crushed cars, stranded people, victims… One of the posts on social networks sums it up: “The city is like after a war”. This was Varna on 19 November, after Hurricane Frederic. The warning was for winds of 120-150 km/h and waves of 5-7 metres. The winds had never been this strong, with the previous maximum being 144 km/h, measured in the mountains.
We’re used to talking about hurricanes when it comes to America. In just two weeks, in Varna alone, we have witnessed phenomena untypical of our latitudes. Are they weather vagaries or manifestations of the climate changes we have witnessed over the past decade?
At noon on 4 November, residents of the Dalgopol villages of Partizani and Lopushna experienced a natural anomaly that they likened to a tornado.
“Suddenly it was dark. There was a humming. It went up like a whirlwind. And trees started falling, tiles, roofs… There was not a minute. If one more minute had passed, everything would have been gone – says Khalil Hasan, 76 years old. For me… a shiver of fear came out. I have never seen anything like it”.
A week later, the village is slowly recovering from the horror. In the courtyard of the town hall, workers are clearing away the trunks of huge pine trees that were felled. Just up the road, 87-year-old Ismet Hamza pushes his wheelchair, an inheritance from his wife.
“I have never seen such a wind in my life. It broke everything,” he says, wiping his eyes with his sleeve.
In 70-year-old Rafiq’s house, the wind smashed tiles and a huge tree trunk, as well as the window of one of the rooms. “I have never seen such a disaster. It makes your heart stop,” the man doesn’t want to remember.
As well as trees, the hurricane also knocked people over in their gardens. Fortunately, the storm passed without causing any casualties.
A partial state of emergency was also declared in the neighbouring village of Lopushna, but the hurricane winds there caused less damage. But the mayor of the village, Khalil Saliyev, cannot remember such a weather phenomenon. He told us that climate change is a fact of life and has already affected people’s lives in recent years, particularly through drought.
One of the area’s natural landmarks, the 10-metre-high Kusa Skoka waterfall, has dried up. The Lopushna River, which runs through the village, is also overgrown, silted up and its flow reduced. “As children, we used to drink water directly from the river. Everyone used to take home a bag of fish – croutons, barbel – the tastiest fish was here. Now it’s all chemicals. And there are no fish,” the man says, looking down from the bridge at the grassy riverbed.
The lack of water for livestock is also changing livelihoods in the area. In the recent past, almost every household kept goats, sheep and cows. Now there are no cattle. Deprived of the opportunity to earn a living in the village, the young people are leaving to go abroad or to bigger cities, says the mayor. There are only 5-6 children left in the village kindergarten.
Lack of snow and sufficient rainfall is also cited as one of the main reasons for the shortage of drinking water in dozens of villages in the district. Several villages in the Varna region have been under water restrictions this summer, and some are still in this situation. The most serious problem, according to the head of VIK-Varna, engineer Veselin Rusev, is in the municipality of Avren. Villages in the municipalities of Valchi dol and Dolni chiflik are also affected.
Due to the drought and the reduction in the flow of water supply sources in 2017, a drinking water regime was introduced in the villages of Solnik and Golitsa in the municipality of Dolni Chiflik. The use of drinking water for irrigation, watering of green areas, washing of streets, etc. is prohibited. During the hottest months of this summer, the water came every three or four days for an hour or two, and then it was cut off again, the people of Solnik complain. The village, along with Burdarevo and Golitsa, is supplied by the Dvoinitsa River.
People don’t believe that drought is the only cause. According to them, the problem of waterlessness began after aggregates were extracted from the river under a concession. “The concession company demolished the retaining wall. It lowers the level of the ballast layer under the water zone, and this helps the water to flow out faster and not be retained in the sanitary layer,” says Ivan Petrov, a resident of Solnik.
There is also overexploitation of natural resources in the region, such as logging in the longleaf forests. People regularly take pictures of logging trucks coming out of the forest.
Waste of resources is the other main reason for the situation, experts say. According to Veselin Rusev, head of the Water and Sewerage Company, water wastage in the region is around 60%, and is most serious in the villages.
The combination of factors, along with climate change, will make us more likely to experience natural anomalies and affect our quality of life, experts say.
Only in the last 40-50 years has there been a significant increase in the average annual temperature. For Varna, it has been in the range of one to one and a half degrees since 1979, according to meteoblue.com. The last 10 years have been much warmer than the previous 10 years over the same period.
The temperature in the Black Sea in November 2023 is 6 degrees above normal for this time of year. This is defined by meteorologists as a temperature anomaly, which is what gave birth to Hurricane Frederic, whose devastating force we witnessed in Varna.
We all see the catastrophic climate change, which is the “elephant in the room” that no one wants to talk about constructively,” says Apostol Penkov, climate ambassador and representative of the Public Centre for Environment and Sustainable Development. It is a global phenomenon, and despite a lot of data on the subject, the oil and coal lobby is “blinding” people’s eyes, Penkov said. What is needed is education and a change in the way people think and behave, namely that their quality of life depends on the quality of the environment in which they live. Otherwise, nature will continue to send us warnings.