The Increasing Threat of Heatwaves: Climate Change’s Impact on Spain’s Future Summers

In an interview just given by Rubén del Campo, spokesperson for the Spanish Meteorological Agency (AEMET), to Nius Diario, about what the weather will be like in the months of July and August, he clarifies what can be expected.

Another heatwave? “It doesn’t have to be the case that there will be another one; just because we had an extreme heatwave in June doesn’t mean that there will be an equal or worse one throughout the summer. But it is true that the seasonal forecasts already warned us that June, July, and August were going to be warmer than usual, and they were right about June, so it can’t be ruled out. We also know that heatwaves are more common at this time of year. The closest precedent we have is from 2017 when a very similar heatwave was recorded in June, and another one broke all records in August.”

Prediction models fail

If, at first, they told us that the heatwave would last until Wednesday, and it has continued until Sunday, the AEMET spokesperson explains that “it should be noted that extreme events, precisely because of their extreme nature, are more difficult to predict. In this heatwave, for example, the meteorological prediction models told us it would end on Wednesday, but it will actually end on Sunday, with the worst concentrated in the last few days.”

Increasingly common heatwaves

The reason we have reached this point is due to several factors. “We have experienced the presence of a DANA (isolated high-altitude depression) in the Azores, which has been injecting very warm air from North Africa, which, in addition to heat, has brought Saharan dust. Everything has coincided to generate this heatwave. But these types of atmospheric situations are relatively common; they have always led to heatwaves. What is worrying now is that these episodes of extreme heat are becoming more intense and more frequent.”

More heatwaves

“At the moment, the evidence is very clear that climate change is behind the heatwaves. Heatwaves have always existed. It is clear that Spain is a hot country where they have always occurred, and if climate change did not exist, they would also occur. Nobody questions that. What we do say is that climate change is behind them because it makes them more frequent. And the proof is that in the last decade, we have had twice as many heatwaves as in previous decades.”

A bleak future

“If we continue emitting greenhouse gases as we have been until now, in thirty years, summers will be 2.5 degrees Celsius warmer in the Mediterranean region. It may seem distant, but thirty years is nothing. Let’s not forget that thirty years ago, the Barcelona Olympics took place, and many of us remember them as if they had happened yesterday… Summers 2.5 degrees warmer is an expectation that is impactful, especially when we know that the hottest summer we have had so far, in 2003, had an average temperature 1.8 degrees higher than the current average.”

“In other words, the normal summers in 30 years will be hotter than the hottest summer known to date in our country. And that translates into heatwaves, obviously even more frequent than now and even longer and more intense.”

50 degrees Celsius possible in Spain?
“They could be reached. We don’t know when. But if last year we reached 47.5 degrees in Montoro (Córdoba), and these climate change projections indicate summers 2.5 degrees hotter in the medium term, it’s evident that it’s very likely. For Andalusia, it’s even talked about four or five degrees higher. So, if Cordoba had a record temperature of 47 degrees, and Seville 46, we just need to add up, and we get those 50 or 51 degrees. It wouldn’t happen every summer, but in extreme heatwaves, they could be reached. And in Madrid, 45 degrees, and in Zaragoza, 48 or even 50 as well. We face a scenario of extremely high temperatures during heatwaves in the second half of the 21st century. Our children, in the medium term, will likely experience summers with maximum temperatures above 50 degrees. In other words, ‘normal’ summers with moderate heat will be hotter than the worst summer we’ve had so far.”