Holidaymakers heading to Spain this summer are being warned to expect scorching temperatures as the country faces another year of heatwaves.
The country has officially entered a period of long-drought due to hot weather and low rainfall over the past three years.
Spain’s Aemet weather agency said statistics show the country entered a long-duration drought at the end of last year, and the first three months of 2023 show no major signs of change. It means that the country likely faces another year of heatwaves, with temperatures tipped to soar above 40C.
The UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) is warning there is a heightened risk of forest fires due to the “exceptionally high temperatures” in Spain.
Forest fires are not uncommon in Spain, including the Spanish Islands, and occur frequently during the summer months - the height of the tourist season - when temperatures regularly reach 40C and above.
The FCDO said: “During the summer months, there is a heightened risk of forest fires due to exceptionally high temperatures in Spain. Take care when visiting or driving through woodland areas.
“Causing a forest fire is considered a criminal offence in Spain even if unintentional. Make sure cigarette ends are properly extinguished, don’t light barbecues and don’t leave empty bottles behind. There are strict regulations across much of Spain against lighting outdoor barbecues in forest areas and penalties imposed include heavy fines.
“Some regions prohibit the use of outdoor barbecues in public picnic areas during the summer months. Check on the outbreak of fires with the local civil protection authority and report any you see immediately to the emergency services on 112.”
Ruben del Campon, spokesman for Aemet, added: “The first available predictions for the summer of 2023 point to a likely situation of temperatures once again above normal,” meaning that this summer, “the risk of fires could be very high given the high temperatures”.
Spain has experienced severe droughts before, in 2017, 2005 and at the end of the 1990s and ’80s, and while the country is geographically prone to high temperatures and drought, climate change is a key factor.
Mr Del Campo said Spain has warmed 1.3C since the 1960s - a warming that is noticeable all year round, but especially in summer, when average temperatures have risen by 1.6C.
While such an increase may not appear that big, he said “when we talk about a scenario as large as the Iberian Peninsula, half a million square kilometres, annual data, this trend translates into many more hours of heat”. The number of heat hours have doubled in the last 10 to 12 years compared to previous years, he added.
Last year was Spain’s sixth driest year and the hottest since 1961, when records began. Rainfall was 16% below average and daily temperatures averaged above 15C for the first time.
But December was among the wettest in recent years, which helped to improve the situation, with recent rains boosting water reserves in reservoirs to 51% capacity, way above the dangerous low of less than 35% in late 2022. However, at least two areas, most noticeably Spain’s northeastern Catalonia around Barcelona, are suffering severe shortages.
Spain’s Ecological Transition Ministry says that while the situation is “worrying” there are currently no drinking water restrictions in any part of the country and none are expected to be imposed this year.
Localised agricultural and industrial water restrictions may occur, as in the case in Catalonia which since November 2022 has had to restrict water use in agriculture and industry. Potable water is forbidden for use in washing cars or filling swimming pools.
Spain is not the only country to suffer the effects of high temperatures as land heatwaves have become commonplace in many countries around the Mediterranean, with dramatic side effects including wildfires, droughts, crop losses and uncomfortably hot weather.