Spain is in the grip of its first heat wave of the year, with temperatures in parts of the west and south expected to reach 44°C (111.2°F).
Heat waves – defined as at least three consecutive days of above-average temperatures recorded in July and August from 1971 to 2000 – are becoming more frequent and starting earlier, according to Aemet, the Spanish meteorological office. “We are facing unusually high temperatures for June,” said Rubén del Campo, a spokesman for Aemet.
The heat wave, the result of anticyclone Alex and a very hot air mass over North Africa, is expected to last at least until Tuesday and is the third earliest on record. The last time a heat wave came this early was in 1981.
It follows the hottest May on record, with temperatures three degrees above average last month.
Aemet calculates that global warming means that the Spanish summer starts between 20 and 40 days earlier than 50 years ago. There have been heat waves on June 10 since 1975, five of them since 2011 and, assuming this one lasts three days, over the past 12 years there will have been a June heat wave every two years .
Last year was the hottest and driest on record in Spain, with temperatures reaching an all-time high of 47.4°C in Montoro, in the southern province of Córdoba. Overall, across the country, the average temperature was 0.5 C above the average for the period 1981-2010. And 2021 was not a unique year but the last in a series of hot years.
“For the first time, we’ve seen eight straight years with above average temperatures,” Del Campo said. “There is a clear trend that things are getting hotter.”
These warm years were not accompanied by cold years. Over the past 10 years, only 14 exceptionally cold days have been recorded, compared to 146 exceptionally hot ones.
With little time to acclimate to what would normally be midsummer temperatures, people are at higher risk for heatstroke, dizziness and headaches. It will also be more difficult to sleep, with nighttime temperatures of 25°C – officially “scorching nights”, according to Aemet – or in some regions of 30°C, known as “hellish nights”.
A study last year in cities in Spain, Portugal, France and Italy found a link between mortality and high nighttime temperatures.
Spain’s health ministry has warned people to stay indoors as much as possible and to avoid exercise during the hottest part of the day. People are also advised to drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol.