Spain has officially entered a long-term drought, due to high temperatures and low rainfall over the past three years, and is likely to face another year of heatwaves and forest fires.
The country’s Aemet meteorological agency said on Friday that statistics show Spain entered a long-lasting drought in late 2022 and the first three months of 2023 show little sign of changing.
“The first forecasts available for the summer of 2023 indicate a probable situation of temperatures once again above the norm”, said Aemet spokesman Rubén del Campo, adding that next summer “the risk of fires could be very high given the high temperatures”.
But Del Campo stressed that the country experienced severe droughts first in 2017, 2005 and in the late 1990s and 1980s.
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“To put that into context, we’re in a drought, but there have been worse droughts, which isn’t to say it won’t matter,” he said at a news conference.
Aemet says Spain is geographically subject to high temperatures and droughts, but climate change is a key factor.
Del Campo said Spain has warmed by 34 degrees since the 1960s, a warming that is evident year-round but especially in the summer when average temperatures have risen by 1.6 degrees.
He said such an increase might not seem too big but stressed that “when we talk about a scenario as big as the Iberian peninsula, half a million square kilometers, annual data, this trend translates into many more hours of heat,” which he said. these have doubled in the last 10-12 years, compared to the number of hours of heat in previous years.
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Last year was Spain’s sixth driest year and the hottest since 1961, when records began. Rainfall was 16 percent below average and daily temperatures averaged above 59 degrees Fahrenheit for the first time.
However, December was among the rainiest in recent years, significantly improving the situation. Recent rains have boosted water reserves in reservoirs to 51% of capacity, well above the perilously low of less than 35% at the end of 2022. But at least two areas, notably northeastern Spain’s Catalonia around Barcelona are suffering from serious shortages.
Spain’s Ministry of Ecological Transition says that while the situation is “worrying”, there are currently no restrictions on drinking water anywhere and none are expected this year.
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Localized agricultural and industrial water restrictions can occur, as in the case of Catalonia which has had to limit the use of water in agriculture and industry since November 2022. Drinking water is prohibited for washing cars or filling swimming pools.
Global heat waves have become the order of the day in many Mediterranean countries, with dramatic side effects such as fires, droughts, crop losses and excessively high temperatures.