Spain’s unusually early heatwave likely to make this May hottest of the century

Extreme temperatures experienced in a large part of Spain on Friday, and the forecast of 40 degrees Celsius in some places for this weekend, mean May 2022 is on track to be the hottest spring month in the 21st century.

Spain's unusually early heatwave likely to make this May hottest of the century
Forty degrees Celsius are expected in the Andalusian city of Córdoba this weekend. (Photo by JORGE GUERRERO / AFP)

Spain’s meteorological agency AEMET said the heatwave, caused by a mass of hot air coming from North Africa, had produced high temperatures up to 15 degrees Celsius above the seasonal average.

The worst-hit regions are Andalusia in the south, Extremadura in the southeast, Madrid and Castilla La Mancha in the centre and Aragon in the northeast.

Temperatures are expected to hit 39 degrees Celsius (102 degrees Fahrenheit) in Zaragoza in the northeast, 38 degrees in Seville in the south and 34 degrees in Madrid, sizzling conditions more usually seen in mid-summer than mid-May.

Heatwaves have become more likely due to climate change, scientists say.

As global temperatures rise over time, heatwaves are predicted to become more frequent and intense, and their impacts more widespread.

The Spanish health ministry urged residents to drink plenty of water, reduce physical activity and stay in cool places “as much as possible”.

Eric Solis, 32, who was visiting Madrid from the United States, said the heat was “a little bit concerning” and “not too convenient for tourists”.

“I was expecting a little bit cooler, fresher weather,” he told AFP.

The southern city of Jaén recorded a high of 38.7 degrees Celsius on Thursday, its highest temperature for the month of May since 1883 and 15 degrees Celsius above the average high for this time of the year, said AEMET spokesman Ruben del Campo.

The month of May has been “very hot, much more than normal,” he told AFP.

“In 2015 we had an exceptionally warm month of May, it broke all sorts of records, and it seemed at the that time that a similar situation could not be repeated. It has been just seven years,” he added.

Del Campo said the meteorological agency will have to wait until the end of the month to know if it is the hottest month of May of the 21st century.

Member comments

  1. If this is due to climate change, then there are various measures the country of Spain could do to help to tackle this – eg, ban the burning of agricultural waste (around Jaen the prunings from olive trees are burnt (even though they should be mulched), which releases dangerous particles into the air and is dangerous for peoples’ health as well as the environment, fining people who drive around in badly maintained vehicles and better water management etc. It should also be made easier for people to insulate their houses and for more sustainable house building.

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Why parts of Spain are the driest they’ve been in 1,200 years

Parts of Spain and Portugal are the driest they've been in over 1,000 years, according to research published on Monday which warns of severe implications for wine and olive production in the Iberian Peninsula.

Why parts of Spain are the driest they've been in 1,200 years

The Azores High, an area of high pressure that rotates clockwise over parts of the North Atlantic, has a major effect on weather and long term climate trends in western Europe.

But in a new modelling study published in the journal Nature Geoscience, researchers in the United States found this high-pressure system “has changed dramatically in the past century and that these changes in North Atlantic climate are unprecedented within the past millennium”.

Using climate model simulations over the last 1,200 years, the study found that this high-pressure system started to grow to cover a greater area around 200 years ago, as human greenhouse gas pollution began to increase.

It expanded even more dramatically in the 20th century in step with global warming.

The authors then looked at evidence of rainfall levels preserved over hundreds of years in Portuguese stalagmites, and found that as the Azores High has expanded, the winters in the western Mediterranean have become drier.

The study cites projections that the level of precipitation could fall a further 10 to 20 percent by the end of this century, which the authors say would make Iberian agriculture “some of the most vulnerable in Europe”.

They warn that the Azores High will continue to expand during the 21st century as greenhouse gas levels rise, leading to an increasing risk of drought on the Iberian Peninsula and threatening key crops.

“Our findings have important implications for projected changes in western Mediterranean hydroclimate throughout the twenty-first century,” the authors said.

researchers have predicted a 30-percent drop in production for olive regions in southern Spain by 2100. (Photo by RAYMOND ROIG / AFP)

Wither on the vines

The Azores High acts as a “gatekeeper” for rainfall into Europe, according to the study, with dry air descending in the summer months to cause hot, arid conditions in much of Portugal, Spain and the western Mediterranean.

In the cool, wetter winter period, the high-pressure system swells, sending westerly winds carrying rain inland.   

This winter rain is “vital” for both the ecological and economic health of the region, but it has been decreasing, particularly over the second half of the 20th century.

While previous research had not untangled the effects of natural variability on the Azores High, the authors said their findings show its expansion during the industrial era is linked to the rise of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations.

A study cited in the latest research estimates that the area suitable for grape growing in the Iberian Peninsula could shrink by at least a quarter and potentially vanish almost completely by 2050 because of severe water shortages.

Meanwhile, researchers have predicted a 30-percent drop in production for olive regions in southern Spain by 2100.

Winemakers are already looking for ways to adapt to the changing climate, such as moving vineyards to higher altitudes and experimenting with more heat-tolerant varieties.

Last year, scientists found that a severe spring frost that ravaged grape vines in France was made more likely by climate change, with the plants budding earlier and therefore more susceptible to damage.