Spain: Long-term drought to bring more heatwaves, widlfires

MADRID — Spain has formally entered a long-term drought due to the recent high temperatures and poor rainfall, and another year of heatwaves and forest fires is inevitable.

Statistics revealed that Spain started a protracted drought at the end of 2022, and the first three months of 2023 don’t appear to be significantly different, according to the nation’s Aemet weather service.

Aemet spokesman Rubén del Campo stated that the preliminary forecasts for the summer of 2023 “point to a likely situation with temperatures once again above average,” adding that the risk of fires this summer “may be very severe given the high temperatures.”

Del Campo, however, emphasized that the nation has already endured severe droughts in 2017, 2005, and at the end of the 1990s and the 1980s.

He said at a press conference, “To put it in context, we’re in a drought, but there have been worse droughts, which is not to say this will not be important.

Spain is geographically prone to drought and high heat, according to Aemet, but climate change is a major issue.

Del Campo said Spain has warmed 1.3 degrees Celsius (34 F) since the 1960s, a warming that is visible all year round but especially in summer — when average temperatures have risen by 1.6 degrees.

Although he acknowledged that such an increase might not seem significant, he emphasized that “when we talk about a scenario as large as the Iberian Peninsula, half a million square kilometers, annual data, this trend translates into many more hours of heat,” which have doubled in the last 10 to 12 years compared to the number of heat hours of earlier years.

Spain’s 2016 was both the hottest and sixth-driest year since records began in 1961. Rainfall was 16% below average, while daily average temperatures for the first time above 15 degrees Celsius (59 degrees Fahrenheit).

Nonetheless, December was one of the wettest in recent memory, significantly improving the situation. Recent rains have increased reservoir water levels to 51% of capacity, a significant increase from the critically low level of under 35% in late 2022. Yet, there are serious shortages in at least two places, most notably in northern Catalonia in Spain near Barcelona.

While the situation is “worrying,” according to Spain’s Ecological Transition Ministry, there are currently no drinking water restrictions in any area, and none are anticipated this year.

Localized controls on agricultural and industrial water use may be necessary, like in Catalonia, where such restrictions have been in place since November 2022. Use of potable water for swimming pool filling or automobile washing is prohibited.

In several nations surrounding the Mediterranean, land heat waves have grown routine, with significant consequences like wildfires, droughts, crop losses, and uncomfortable high temperatures.

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