‘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.

heatwave in Spain
July 2022 was hottest on record in Spain. Photo: THOMAS COEX / AFP

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.

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How heatwaves have battered Spain’s mussel harvests

"There's nothing left here," sighs Javier Franch as he shakes the heavy rope of mussels he's just pulled to the surface in northeastern Spain. They are all dead.

How heatwaves have battered Spain's mussel harvests

With the country hit by a long and brutal heatwave this summer, the water temperature in the Ebro Delta, the main mussels production area of the Spanish Mediterranean, is touching 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit).

And any grower who hasn’t removed their molluscs in time will have lost everything.

But that’s not the worst of it: most of next year’s crop has also died in one of the most intense marine heatwaves in the Spanish Mediterranean.

By the end of July, experts said the western Mediterranean was experiencing an “exceptional” marine heatwave, with persistently hotter-than-normal temperatures posing a threat to the entire marine ecosystem.

“The high temperatures have cut short the season,” says Franch, 46, who has spent almost three decades working for the firm founded by his father, which has seen production fall by a quarter this year.

The relentless sun has heated up the mix of fresh and saltwater along Catalonia’s delicate coastal wetlands where the River Ebro flows into the Mediterranean.

On a scorching summer morning in Deltebre, one of the municipalities of the Delta, the mussel rafts — long wooden structures with ropes attached which can each grow up to 20 kilograms (44 pounds) of mussels — should be teeming with workers hurrying around during the busy season.

But there is hardly any movement.

“We lost the yield that was left, which wasn’t much, because we were working to get ahead so we wouldn’t go through this,” explains Carles Fernandez, who advises the Ebro Delta’s Federation of Mollusc Producers (Fepromodel).

“But the problem is that we’ve lost the young stock for next year and we’ll have quite a high cost overrun.”

Fishermen extract Pacific oysters bunches in a farm structure on the open sea off the coast near Deltebre, south of Tarragona, on August 10th, 2022. (Photo by Pau BARRENA / AFP)

Millions in losses

The heat has wiped out 150 tonnes of commercial mussels and 1,000 tonnes of young stock in the Delta, initial estimates suggest.

And producers are calculating their losses at over one million euros ($1,000,000) given they will now have to buy young molluscs from Italy or Greece for next year.

“When you have a week when temperatures are higher than 28C, there can be some mortality, but this summer it has lasted almost a month and a half,” with peak temperatures of almost 31C, says Fepromodel head Gerardo Bonet.

Normally, the Ebro Delta’s two bays produce around 3,500 tonnes of mussels, and 800 tonnes of oysters, making Catalonia Spain’s second-largest producer, although it remains far behind the output of Galicia, the northwestern region on the colder Atlantic coast.

For years now, the harvest in the Delta has been brought forward, cutting short a season that once ran from April to August.

‘Tropical’ Mediterranean

Hit by coastal erosion and a lack of sediment supply, the rich ecosystem of the Ebro Delta — a biosphere reserve and one of the most important wetlands of the western Mediterranean — is particularly vulnerable to climate change.

And this extreme summer, when Spain endured 42 days of heatwave — a record three times the average over the past decade, the AEMET national forecaster says — has also left its mark below the surface of the water.

“Some marine populations which are unable to cope with temperatures as high as these over a long period of time are going to suffer what we call mass mortality,” says marine biologist Emma Cebrian of the Spanish National Research Council (CISC).

Spanish Mediterranean mussel producer Javier Franch shows dead Mediterranean mussel seeds in a farm structure on the open sea off the coast near Deltebre, south of Tarragona. (Photo by Pau BARRENA / AFP)

“Imagine a forest, it’s like 60 or 80 percent of the trees dying, with the resulting impact on its associated biodiversity,” she says.

The succession of heatwaves on land has generated another at sea which — pending analysis of all the data in November — may turn out to be “the worst” in this area of the Mediterranean since records began in the 1980s.

Although marine heatwaves are not a new phenomenon, they are becoming more extreme with increasingly dire consequences.

“If we compare it with a wildfire, one can have an impact, but if you keep having them, it will probably mean the affected populations are not able to recuperate,” Cebrian said.

Experts say the Mediterranean is becoming “tropicalised”, and mollusc grower Franch is struck by the mounting evidence as his boat glides between empty mussel rafts in a bay without a breath of wind.

He is mulling an increase in his production of oysters, which are more resistant to high temperatures, but which currently represent just 10 percent of his output.

But he hopes it will help ensure his future in a sector that employs 800 people directly or indirectly in the Ebro Delta.

“(The sector) is under threat because climate change is a reality and what we are seeing now will happen again,” he says worriedly.