Thirty-eight degrees Celsius in Cordoba, 37 in Seville, 34 in Toledo, 32 in Madrid – It sounds like the weather report for a day in July in Spain, but this time it’s an absolutely exceptional situation that much of the country experienced in late April. The highest temperatures were reached in the south, in Andalusia, where 35 degrees Celsius was exceeded by a large margin, but it was also very hot in the central regions and in the usually cool Cantabrian regions, with an Atlantic climate. The heat wave has been going on since April 25, breaking records.
According to the Spanish State Agency of Meteorology (AEMET), this situation is absolutely anomalous for this time of year and never previously recorded since the regular collection of data began. According to the Spanish website Meteored, temperatures are hovering between 10 and 15 degrees Celsius above the average for the period, a truly extraordinary phenomenon caused by climate change. In Spain nowadays, summer tends to start earlier and earlier, with spring and autumn getting shorter and shorter.
The situation during these last days of April comes after a March that was the second hottest of the 21st century in Spain, and after a 2022 that was the hottest year on record. Last summer’s drama, marked by very prolonged heat waves and vast fires with more than 300,000 hectares going up in smoke, that made many Spaniards change their perception about the climate crisis, which became a more obvious reality.
Along with the abnormal heat, Spain is facing an alarming drought emergency. Last year had already been exceptionally dry, with low lake levels causing archaeological remains and submerged villages to resurface, but the situation has not improved in the first four months of 2023 – on the contrary, it’s getting worse. In some areas there has been no consistent rain for months, such as in Castile-La Mancha, where the cereal harvest is now compromised. The situation is also dramatic in Andalusia, and in Catalonia, where they are experiencing the worst drought in a hundred years.
As if that were not enough, the extremely dry soils favor the spread of forest fires, such as the one that devoured thousands of hectares of vegetation in mid-March between the Valencian Community and Aragon. On that occasion, faced with a scenario that usually occurs in August, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said, “There is no more room for those who deny the climate crisis.”
The rising heat is also showing the urgent need to adapt Spanish cities and protect those living in poverty, in homes unsuitable for the extreme climate.
There is also much to be done in Spain on the very sensitive issue of water: its scarcity has reopened clashes between political forces in recent months, as evidenced by the recent debates around the Doñana National Park, the large protected wetland in Andalusia, from which the right-wing wants to authorize water withdrawals for agricultural purposes – currently illegal – despite the very serious situation of the water table and the clear “no” from both Europe and the central government.
Another thorny issue is that of the Trasvase from the Tagus River to the Segura, a major hydraulic infrastructure that allows water to reach one of Spain’s driest watersheds, but on which limits are being put in order to preserve the ecological health of the great Iberian waterway that flows into Lisbon. Clashes between regions are reigniting over these limits, in a veritable internal “water war” within the country between those who believe too much and those who believe too little is being taken.