MADRID – According to data from the National Meteorological Institute Aemet, there have been 36 official heatwaves in Spain. Two made history. In 2003, the high temperatures resulted in the most deaths (6,600). In 2015 a heat wave lasted no less than 26 days.
A heatwave that can be credited in the books as the earliest begins this Sunday. The high temperatures will last at least until Wednesday 15 June. In 47 years, only ten heat waves have been recorded in Spain in June. However, none of those extremely hot episodes occurred in the first half of June.
High-Temperature Weather Warnings
Almost the entire country is faced with weather warnings for high temperatures. Except for the northern coastal strips in Cantabria and Galicia and the Canary Islands. From Saturday, the mercury will rise above 35 degrees Celsius in many places. Moreover in some areas it will be hotter dan 43 degrees Celsius. The catchments of the Guadalquivir in Andalucia, the Guadiana in Extremadura, and part of the catchment area of the Tagus, in particular, have to deal with extreme heat.
It will be even warmer on Sunday along the Guadalquivir and the Guadiana. The thermometers will be well above 40ºC. And in Seville, Córdoba, and Badajoz even 43ºC is expected. The mercury also reaches 40ºC in Ciudad Real, 39 in Cáceres, Lleida and Zaragoza, 38 in Madrid. The difference between the north and south of the country is 20 degrees: 20ºC is the maximum expected in Oviedo and 21ºC in both Santander and A Coruña.
Heatwave extends into early next week
Also Monday there will be high temperatures in both the southeast of the peninsula and in the north. The maximum that day will reach 43ºC along the Guadalquivir. In the Ebro basin and in the central and northern part of the Spanish plateau they will reach 39-40ºC.
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According to meteorologists, on Tuesday, thermometers continue to rise in the southeast and the Bay of Biscay. Even on Wednesday, the mercury continues to rise with extreme heat in the Balearic Islands reaching 37ºC in the interior of Mallorca. According to current forecasts, it cannot be ruled out that it will be as much as 45ºC in the Guadalquivir basin. From then on temperatures will stabilise.
The heat wave will make it difficult to sleep. Aemet expects tropical nights when the mercury does not drop below 20ºC, especially in the southern part of the peninsula and the Mediterranean. In some areas, there will even be equatorial nights. Those are nights when it doesn’t cool down more than 25ºC.
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On Sunday the nights are tropical in most of Andalucia, in western Castilla-La Mancha, Extremadura, and south of the Madrid region. It will also be difficult to fall asleep in Huesca, Zaragoza, and Lleida and on the Mediterranean coast.
When do we talk about a heat wave in Spain?
Last week, Spanish media also announced a heat wave. In the end, it was very warm for a few days, but according to the official criteria, there was no real heat wave yet. The criteria that each episode of high temperatures must meet to be labeled a heat wave, according to Aemet, relate to intensity, length, and duration. A heat wave occurs when: “An episode of at least three consecutive days, in which at least 10% of the monitoring stations register maxima above the 95% percentile of their series of maximum daily temperatures for July and August of the period 1971-2000”.
How long will this first heat wave in Spain last?
The first heat wave of 2022 will last at least until Wednesday. The stability in the atmosphere combined with warm air favours the persistent high temperatures. From Thursday, the mercury will start to drop in the west of the peninsula. An Atlantic storm located west of the Iberian Peninsula will move eastward, according to the models. The result is that the warm air is pushed away.
The importance of weather warnings for heat
Aemet started issuing heat warnings in 2003. That year many people died in other countries as a result of the high temperatures. About 1,700 people die every year as a result of heat. Through the warnings and awareness, the authorities hope to prevent higher death rates from heat waves. Several variables influence these death rates, such as the age of the population in an area. Such is a heat wave in Jaén not the same as a heat wave in Vigo (Galicia).
Just one day with high temperatures results in higher mortality
Julio Díaz of the Carlos III Health Institute in Madrid has been fighting for a good warning system that takes health aspects into account for decades. “It has been proven that a single day of extreme temperatures already produces a high mortality rate. That is why for us a heat wave can also cover a single day’, he emphasises. Experience and science confirm that a good warning system can save lives. The 2015 heat wave was longer than the 2003 heat wave but far less deadly. “The impact has been reduced thanks to prevention plans and awareness,” says Díaz in La Voz de Galicia.
See also: What does global warming mean for Spain?
If all goes well, Aemet will finally start activating heat alerts based on the health thresholds next year. If the institute were to apply these to the current situation, Spain could register its third heat wave day of the year today.