Thursday, March 26, 2009

When It Rains, It Pours

Since my arrival in Albania I have developed an unusual interest in rainfall, river levels, and snowpack. Some of my friends would classify my "interest" as an unhealthy obsession. To me it seems reasonable. Almost 90% of the electricity generated in Albania comes from hydropower. My ability to have lights, hot water, and elevator service depends greatly on how much precipitation lands in the Drin Valley watershed.

Over the years I've seen both ends of the spectrum. My first trip to Kukes let me glimpse the bottom of the nearly empty Fierze reservoir with the old house foundations of Old Kukes poking up out of the mud more than 50 meters below the high water mark on the mountainside. I suffered through several Augusts with no AC due to brownouts and shivered through dark February nights with only a candle and flashlights for light (and heat!).

Then again, I also saw the flooding of Lezhe during 2002. Water everywhere, reservoirs full to capacity with all turbines spinning flat out and still they were dumping excess water over the spillways. That year Fierze filled up to the top and excess electricity was sold to Kosova.

Once again, the pendulum of precipitation has swung to the wet side. In fact, this is one of the wettest winters I can recall here in Albania. It's been raining more or less daily since late December. You would think this would make me, and all 3 million water-obsessed Albanians happy as clams at high tide. You would be wrong.

With this bounty of water comes a price. The first price was snow... a lot of it. The high mountain villages here are no strangers to snowbound winters and the Army has experience heli-dropping food and medicines to stranded people and forage for isolated farm animals. This year it started the same with news reports of villages near Has snowed in. Shishtavec made it's usual appearance in the list of places blocked by snow. Other places had their first snow in decades. Some people even managed make the snow in March around Kukes look attractive through the addition of music.

When major passes like Qafe Thane closed, people started to take notice. For weeks it was on again, off again with closures and mandatory tire chain orders creeping lower and closer to Tirana. Qafe Llogara made the list in January and then Himare actually woke up to snow on the beach.
This was not going to be a normal year! And so it continues. Today, the news talks of villages still isolated by snow. Some of these places have recieved over two meters of snow in the past two months. Last week we got hammered by a late season storm that inundated Tirana and brought snow to the outskirts. Qafe Krrabe, between Tirana and Elbasan, was blocked, re-opening after three days to the delight of these folks:

The government had to call out the heavy equipment to clear this road.

Farther north, Kolin in Shkoder reported snow on the ground in this northern city which is nearly at sea level. I shudder at the though of what driving conditions were like. Oh, wait! Who needs to imagine when, through the magic of YouTube, you can experience the insanity of Albanian driving in the snow first-hand. It's guys like this who don't have the sense to stay home that lead to things like the 200-car traffic jam on Qafe Mali between Kukes and Puke last week. Four buses with women and children ended up spending two nights stranded in the snow. Over 100 other cars were trapped on the remote Qafe Buall pass when the front-end loader sent to clear the pass ran out of gas in the middle of the road. Classic!
Despite these travails, those who paid the price for precipitation in the form of snow got off lightly. The heavy rains brought more serious problems in the form of landslides.
To be continued......


Beyond Belief said...

I say shame, shame for false advertising. I watched the youtube video in hopes of seeing a crash (Hey, NASCAR isn't available right now) and all I got was a bunch of people driving safely through the mountains.

By the way, Kukes and Puke sounds like a law firm I wouldn't want to do business with.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the sharing.............

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