Spain in grip of second earliest heatwave on record

Spain was on Monday already in the grips of a heatwave expected to reach "extreme" levels, and France is bracing for one too, as meteorologists blame the unusually high seasonal temperatures on global warming.

Spain in grip of second earliest heatwave on record
A construction worker drinks water to fight the scorching heat during a heatwave in Seville on June 13, 2022. (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP)

The “unusual” temperatures for the time of year follow the hottest May in at least 100 years in Spain, Ruben del Campo, spokesman for the Spanish Meteorological Agency (Aemet) said.

He told AFP that the current heatwave would bring “extreme temperatures” and “could last until the end of the week”.

The mercury will rise above 40 degrees Celsius (around 104 degrees Fahrenheit) in the day in many Spanish towns and remain high at night, above 20 to 22 degrees, he said.

According to Spain’s national weather agency, the earliest heatwave on record was recorded on June 11th 1981, making the current episode of soporific heat the second earliest heatwave on record in Spain as it began on Sunday June 12th 2022.

There was a period of extreme heat recorded in May in Spain, but in order for meteorologists to officially consider scorching weather to be una ola de calor (a heatwave) it must last at least three days and temperatures must exceed seasonal thresholds by 10 percent.

The heatwave is also set to hit other parts of Europe, such as France, in the next few days, del Campo warned.

France’s weather service said the heatwave would hit southern regions from Tuesday night, worsening a drought across much of the country that is threatening farm harvests.

From Wednesday, much of France will be sweltering in temperatures that could reach 38 or even 40 degrees C — “extremely early” for the season — forecaster Frederic Nathan of Meteo-France told AFP.

Water use restrictions are already in place in 35 departments — around a third of the country — and utilities are urging farmers, factories and public service providers to show “restraint” to avoid further depletions of water tables.

People cool off to fight the scorching heat during a heatwave in Seville on June 13th 2022. (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP)

‘Not normal’

Spain has experienced four episodes of extreme temperatures in the last 10 months.

A heatwave last August set a new record, with the temperature hitting 47.4 degrees C in the southern city of Montoro.

“This extreme heat is not normal at this time during the spring,” del Campo said, attributing it to global warming.

Temperatures were also “exceptionally high” between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

According to Aemet forecasts, temperatures could reach 43 degrees C in the southern region of Andalusia, especially the cities of Cordoba or Seville, in the next few days.

Since the pre-industrial era, Spain has seen temperatures rise by 1.7 degrees C on average, del Campo said.

Not only have temperatures become more extreme, he said, but periods of heat have become more frequent.

Summers in Spain, he added, “are a bit hotter every year and getting longer and longer. A summer lasts one month longer than in the 1980s.”

Apart from the consequences on human health, he warned of the environmental impact, with a high risk of drought and water supply problems, and more fires.

Recent science has shown beyond any doubt that climate change has already increased the frequency and intensity of heatwaves, and that worse is on the horizon no matter how quickly humanity draws down carbon pollution.

Earth has already warmed 1.1 degrees C since pre-industrial times.

The decade from 2011 to 2020 was the warmest on record, and the last six years the hottest ever registered.

READ ALSO: Where are the hottest places in Spain?

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‘2.7C above normal’: Spain registers hottest month on record

July certainly felt like a scorcher, but it was revealed that it was in fact the hottest month in Spain since records began in 1961.

'2.7C above normal': Spain registers hottest month on record

The average temperature during July was 26.6C, which is 2.7C above normal, revealed Spain’s state meteorological agency AEMET on Monday.

The July heatwave caused scorching temperatures across most of the country, including the Balearic and the Canary Islands.

The high temperatures were caused when an Atlantic anticyclone displaced a very warm African air mass over the Iberian Peninsula, explained AEMET spokesman Ruben del Campo.

The wave that affected the peninsula and the Balearic Islands between July 9th and 26th was “the most significant since records began” said AEMET, adding that it was also the “most intense and the most extensive, as well as the second longest”.

Spain suffered its longest heatwave in 2015, which lasted 26 days, however, the average temperature for the whole country was 0.2°C below this year’s average. Up until now, July 2015 was the hottest in Spain since records began 61 years ago.

This July also “far surpassed” the heatwave of August last year, with temperatures 4.8°C above the hottest month in 2021.

READ ALSO: Spanish climate deniers use past heat records to sow doubt online

Which parts of Spain experienced the greatest rise in temperatures?

Not all parts of the country were affected equally in July. The mercury was 5C above normal in Galicia, southern and central Castilla y León, Madrid, Extremadura, and western Castilla La-Mancha, as well as the interior of Andalusia and the Pyrenees.

The daily maximum temperatures were on average 3.3C above normal, while the minimum temperatures were 2.2C higher than normal, “resulting in a daily thermal oscillation of 1.1 C, which is higher than average for July”, explained AEMET.

The Carlos III Health Institute estimated that, between July 1st and 29th, there were 9,687 more deaths than expected for that period, of which 2,124 were attributed to the sweltering hot weather.

One of the driest months on record 

Not only did July 2022 see roasting conditions, but it was also the driest month in the last 15 years. During this time there was an average rainfall over mainland Spain of 8.6mm. It was also the driest month of the entire 21st century, behind the months of July in 2005 and 2007.

The areas most affected by the lack of rain were Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria, the Basque Country and Castilla y León, Extremadura, Soria and eastern Catalonia, many of which usually experience the greatest amount of rain in the country.

In the Canary Islands, however, it was the third wettest July of the 21st century.

READ ALSO – Drought: Where in Spain are there limits on water usage?

Heatwaves across Europe

But it wasn’t only Spain that experienced intense heatwaves. July 2022 was also the sixth hottest in Europe since records began according to Copernicus, the European Union’s Earth Observation Programme.

Last month was also one of the three hottest Julys globally on record, registering 0.4C above the reference period from 1991 to 2020. Only July 2019 and 2016 exceeded this year’s temperature.