Climate Change

Unusual spring heatwave in Spain portends drought conditions in coming months

The country has been suffering from drought since summer last year

By Akshit Sangomla
Published: Wednesday 26 April 2023
Madrid, August 1, 2022. Photo:

The heatwaves in Europe may be starting unusually early in 2023, with Spain bracing for an extreme heat event in the last week of April. 

The country has been suffering from drought since last summer that was the harshest on record and early wildfires this year which may get worse with this early heatwave. 

Climate scientists have attributed the heatwaves and droughts to global warming and it seems they are going to continue this year as well. 

Some parts of southern and eastern Spain will see temperatures ranging from 36-38 degrees Celsius on April 25, the State Meteorological Agency of Spain forecast.

The heatwave conditions are predicted to spread to more areas of southern Spain on April 26 and many areas of central Spain on April 27. In some places the temperature could touch 40°C. 

It is possible the country also breaks its temperature record for April, the forecast indicated. The country’s highest April temperature of 37.4°C was recorded in 2011. Spain generally sees such temperatures in July. 

Spain had also witnessed severe temperatures in the summer of 2022, when Europe recorded its hottest summer. Around 4,600 people died due to the unusual heat in Spain. 

In fact, there were simultaneous heatwaves across five continents in July and early August last year. 

Read more: Simultaneous heatwaves across 5 continents: What’s unfolding in front of us

After the heatwaves came the droughts which led to many of the major rivers drying up and water levels in reservoirs dipping to record lows, including in Spain. 

The dry conditions in the country also lasted into the winter season and still persist, as they do in many other European countries. 

Reservoirs in the Catalonia region of Spain are currently at 25 per cent of their capacity, according to news agency AFP

The dry conditions also led to a record number of wildfires in Spain in 2022 — which had the most burned area in Europe. This year, the wildfires have also started early.

“Blazes have ravaged some 54,000 hectares (133,400 acres) of land so far this year in Spain, compared with just over 17,000 hectares during the same time in 2022, according to the European Forest Fire Information System,” reported AFP

Read more: Europe’s ‘pyroregions’: Summer 2022 saw 20-year freak fires in regions historically immune, close to normal in fire prone areas

High temperatures fuelled by global warming made the droughts across Europe and other regions in the northern hemisphere in 2022 more likely, according to a study by the World Weather Attribution, a collaboration of climate scientists from around the world to make quicker impact assessments of extreme events. 

Persistent anti-cyclonic conditions and climate change were found to be the reasons behind the European drought of 2022, by a research paper published in the journal Environmental Research Letters in February 2023. 

Another research paper published in the journal Nature Geoscience in July 2022 attributed the abnormally dry conditions in Spain to the anomalous expansion of the Azores High, a high pressure system above the North Atlantic. 

The Azores High is surrounded by winds circulating in the anti-cyclonic direction and are associated with bringing other rain-bearing weather systems and moisture to Europe. 

The study found that the expansion of the Azores High is associated with drier-than-normal conditions in the Mediterranean region, especially in the Iberian Peninsula of Spain. The expansion of the Azores High began with industrialisation around 1850 and is unprecedented in the last 1,200 years. 

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