The exceptionally early heat wave experienced by Spain peaked from Thursday, April 27, a situation that worries the authorities in this country on the front line of global warming in Europe. "It is very likely that the peak of this episode will be reached on Thursday and Friday", announced the Spanish meteorological agency (Aemet), before a drop in temperatures from Saturday.
The thermometer could thus rise Thursday to 32-34 degrees in the south of the country with peaks around 37 degrees in the valley of the Guadalquivir river, in Andalusia (South), according to Aemet which has revised its forecasts downwards after mentioning 40 degrees earlier this week.
At more than 36 or 37 degrees, records were already broken locally on Wednesday in the regions of Seville or Cordoba and others could be Thursday or Friday.
In Seville, where fans and umbrellas are out, front-line employees are already harassed by the hot weather. "It's extremely hot, we're looking for shade and water all the time," says Juan Benito, a 33-year-old waiter in the Andalusian capital.
"By its intensity and its early nature, this episode", observed since Monday, "falls within the framework of the consequences of climate change", underlined Wednesday Ruben Del Campo, spokesperson for Aemet, according to whom "it is possible that April 2023 (…) will be one of the two hottest Aprils in the historical series”.
Advanced Heat Plans
In this context, the Spanish authorities are forced to adapt and the Ministry of Health has proposed to the regions, with broad powers, to bring forward to May 15 the activation of their heat plan previously set for June 1. These plans determine the implementation of the different levels of risk for the population, particularly vulnerable, depending on the temperatures. Madrid has already announced on Wednesday the activation of its plan which notably provides for the possibility of adapting school timetables, which is usually done from June.
As a result of climate change, episodes of exceptionally high temperatures have multiplied in recent years in Spain, a European country on the front line with nearly 75% of its territory at risk of desertification according to the UN. The country thus experienced its hottest year on record last year, with several heat waves starting in May, according to Aemet.
A study by the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, published on Tuesday, shows that the number of days of the year with summer temperatures increased in Spain from 90 to 145 between 1971 and 2022. Also for this period, episodes of heat waves daytime hours increased sevenfold and nighttime hours almost elevenfold, while the temperature rose by an average of 3.54 degrees in the main Spanish cities.
High risk of fire
Beyond the temperatures, Spain, which exports a large part of its agricultural production to the rest of Europe, is facing a catastrophic drought which worries farmers and authorities. According to COAG, the main farmers' union, 60% of Spanish farmland is currently "choked" by the lack of rainfall. Dry soils and very high temperatures constitute an explosive cocktail that increases the risk of fires.
Most of the territory was therefore placed on alert Thursday for "very high" or "extreme" risk of fires by the Aemet, while the Ministry of the Interior convened an exceptional coordination meeting with the regions on this subject, Friday.
Spain already holds a record for burned areas since the beginning of the year, with more than 54,000 hectares compared to 17,126 hectares during the same period in 2022, a year yet unequaled in terms of fires, according to the European System information on forest fires (Effis).
Neighboring Portugal is also affected by this early heat wave. Temperatures, which are "10 to 15 degrees Celsius above normal", could reach 37 degrees there on Thursday after a maximum of 35.4 degrees reached Wednesday in the south of the country, according to the National Meteorological Institute.