Snow in Madeira Island

This is my first post in Madeira Islands blog.

There is no better way to start this blog than writing about an exceptional event that is taking place in Madeira Island. The top of the mountains are covered in snow. The snow started to fall two days before, in Saturday, 15th February.

The snow can be seen from the city of Funchal:

Snow in a “tropical” island

It is peculiar that in a territory where the climate is almost tropical, where butterflies fly around all over year (even in the winter), sometimes we can enjoy such a great snow view, typical of regions from higher latitudes.

Actually, these days it is probable that someone is sunbathing on a beach in Funchal, diving and swimming in the warm water of the sea, and at the same time admiring the beautiful landscape of the  mountains above, not far away, painted in white.

I have been living in Madeira Island for several years, and almost every year there is some day in the winter that snow falls at the higher altitudes. However the snow is not always enough to form the white layer that this year is enduring several days.

Blocked roads to the snow

Ok, it is great to see the white mountains over the city of Funchal, the views are really fantastic. But, what about getting close to the snow, what about walking on it, touching it?

In the morning of 15th February of 2014 I decided to drive to Pico do Areeiro to enjoy the snow, walking, taking photos, maybe sliding… But for my disappointment the road was  blocked at an altitude of about 800 m, at Terreiro da Luta, by the police. I was not the only one looking for the snow, several other cars were diverted, forced to turn right and to head towards Estádio do Nacional. At that altitude only some small remains of snow could be found by the side of the road.

The website of Protecção Civil da Madeira was not operational then and even today it is not working yet. So it was not possible to know what roads were opened and what roads were closed. As a consequence there were a lot of cars roaming around trying to get closer to the snow.

Later I heard at the radio that all accesses to Poiso and Pico do Areeiro were blocked. People of Funchal were being prevented to enjoy the snow. I know there are safety issues but maybe something could be done to maintain some roads opened, assuring that at least some safe areas could be accessed.

Paul da Serra, the white plateau

I thought that if I found some pieces of snow at 800m altitude I would certainly find plenty of snow at Paul da Serra where the altitude is around 1400m. I drove up to Ribeira da Janela. The road was not blocked. And yes, Paul da Serra was covered in snow! Watch the video:

On the road the thickness of snow was about 30 cm. It was soft, it was snow, not hail. During my visit to Paul da Serra I had the privilege to see the snowflakes falling around, but unfortunately it ended soon, and I did not record it. As you can see in the video, it was foggy up there, but from time to time it got clear enough to glimpse a large extension of the plateau painted white:



Glacier in Paul da Serra?

The video above was filmed from Bica da Cana to Senhora do Rosário. Here is some photos taken at Bica da Cana:



The reason why I am showing you Bica da Cana covered in snow is that some scholars think near Bica da Cana there are evidences that once there was a glacier. Nearby there is an alleged glacial cirque, U-shaped valleys, moraines, possible striations and sheepback rocks (or roche moutonnée).

I know it is controversial, and maybe the great majority of scholars do not hold this view and are even against it. However, for me, it makes sense.

Makes sense a glacier in Paul da Serra

Why it makes sense? Well, it is simple… There is not even the need to discuss the existence of those geomorphological features (though they may be important).

In the mainland there are a few mountain ranges where it is consensual that once there were Glaciers (it is the case of Gerês, for example). In these cases nobody questions that once there were Glaciers. In these mountain ranges every year it snows in the winter. Well, what happens in Madeira island is very similar.

So, if almost every year it snows at the higher peaks of Madeira, it is not hard to imagine that, as happened to other mountain ranges in Portugal and across Europe, in the Würm glaciation (about 18000 years ago) Madeira was also covered more frequently in snow, and maybe in the same way some elevated areas of the island kept persistent bodies of ice.

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