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A man using an umbrella to shield himself from the sun on la malagueta beach during the heatwave. Alamy Stock Photo
Climate Change

Spain hit by unusually early heatwave as record-breaking temperatures expected

Experts have warned of the high risk of wildfires and farmers have said the heatwave is killing their crops.

AN UNUSUALLY EARLY heatwave in drought-hit Spain is set to peak tomorrow with temperatures expected to break April records in the south of the country.

Experts have warned of the high risk of wildfires and farmers have warned of the catastrophic effect it is having on their crops.

Since Monday, Spain has been enveloped by a mass of warm, dry air from North Africa that has driven up temperatures to “levels normally seen in summer and exceptionally high for this time of year,” said Spain’s state weather agency AEMET.

“It’s highly likely (the heatwave) will peak on Thursday and Friday,” it added, acknowledging many temperature records had already been beaten on Wednesday.

On Thursday, the mercury rose above 34 degrees Celsius (93 degrees Fahrenheit) in most of the southern Andalusia region, hitting 38.7C in Cordoba, it said.

Scorching temperatures have prompted warnings about the high risk of wildfires. Spain has already seen fire ravage 54,000 hectares (133,400 acres) of land so far this year, compared with 17,000 hectares in the same period last year.

Experts say parts of the country are the driest in a thousand years, with a prolonged drought depleting reservoirs to half their normal capacity, figures show.

On Wednesday, at least three areas around the southern cities of Seville and Huelva recorded temperatures of 37C.

  Schools adapt schedules 

 This could be Spain’s hottest April on record, said Ruben del Campo, spokesman for Spain’s national weather office AEMET.

“Due to its intensity and early character, this episode fits with what we are observing climate change causes,” he added.

Spain’s health ministry has recommended that the country’s regions activate their heat plans – which outline measures to protect people from scorching temperatures.

That normally happens from June 1, but the ministry said this year they could come into effect as early as May 15, depending on the situation in each region.

The regional government of Madrid said metro trains in the Spanish capital would pass more frequently than usual to prevent long waits on platforms and crowding.

It is also considering opening some public swimming pools earlier in the year to help people cool off, and let schools adapt their timetables to avoid the worst of the heat.

 Farmland ‘suffocating’

 The heatwave follows an abnormally warm and dry spring, spelling catastrophe for the agriculture sector in Spain, the world’s biggest exporter of olive oil and a key source of Europe’s fruit and vegetables.

The situation is so bad that some farmers have opted not to plant crops. The COAG farmers’ union has warned that 60 percent of farmland was “suffocating” from lack of rainfall.

Spain on Tuesday urged Brussels to activate the bloc’s agriculture crisis reserve to help farmers cope with the exceptional drought, while also announcing a series of tax breaks.

Last year, Spain experienced its hottest year since records began, and UN figures suggest nearly 75 percent of its land is susceptible to desertification due to climate change.

The number of days with summer temperatures in Spain has increased from 90 to 145 between 1971 and 2022, according to a study by the Polytechnic University of Catalonia published Tuesday.

Portugal was also feeling the heat with temperatures “10-15 degrees Celsius higher than normal” that could hit 37C on Thursday, the weather institute said, a day after the mercury touched 35.4C in the south.

© Agence France-Presse

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