The Spanish weather has experienced dramatic changes these last months. Droughts have been an active threat for a while now, but lately we have seen a rise of extreme rainfalls, like Storm Filomena, a cyclone that covered the centre of the peninsula with snow in January 2021. Six-week heatwaves and a risk of land desertification are both symptoms and cause of this situation full of storms and empty reservoirs.
The State Meteorological Agency (“AEMET” in Spanish) confirmed it at the end of summer: this has been the hottest summer in the history of Spain—at least the hottest one that has been recorded so far. This anomaly has caused a difference of more than two degrees Celsius, and it has occurred in such dissimilar places as Galicia, Castile and León, and Extremadura. In some cases, the temperature has risen four degrees in comparison with the usual temperature at the exact same place and date.
Most people feel like, more than a time for rest and leisure, this summer has been a never-ending heatwave that started up in July and did not end until the last days of August, surpassing the 40ºC and oftentimes not going lower than 25ºC. The sea has been facing extreme temperatures too. At the end of July, the temperature of the sea reached 31,25ºC: another historical record. This has a direct impact on terrestrial weather; indeed, it has brought about those tropical nights that have occurred in many parts of Spain this 2022.
The rise of sea temperatures not only has affected terrestrial biodiversity and temperatures, but also the rainfalls that will follow this phenomenon. In fact, heavy rainfalls are more likely to happen when the sea is warmer than usual. However, in order for this to happen, there should be some kind of irregular situation, like cold drops; this imbalance is quite common in autumn, both in the south and the east of the peninsula. Heavy rainfalls can cause floods that lead to a considerable human and economic loss.
It might seem contradictory, but torrential rains, despite their pouring many litres of water, cannot solve this problem Spain has been facing for a year and a half: droughts. Rain is actually of very little use. Neither reservoirs nor aquifers can benefit from it, so it might rain cats and dogs, but there will still be droughts.
According to the Spanish Ministry of Environment, at the end of August 2022 the 8,5% of the land was in a state of long-lasting drought. In fact, there were 17 regions in emergency situations concerning lack of water. The weather forecasts do not anticipate an excessively rainy autumn, but this draught will continue to fuel another big issue Spain is facing right now: desertification.
According to the desertification map published by the Spanish Ministry of Environment, a significant part of the peninsula is, to some extent, at risk of desertification. More than 70% of the Spanish territory is made of arid, semi-arid, and subhumid dry land, which—added to external agents, like wildfires, overuse of aquifers, industrial activities, etc.—put the country at risk. Andalusia, Extremadura, Castile-La Mancha and the south already show signs of degradation regarding the land’s fertility and ecosystems.
The constant migration to the cities and the interior’s depopulation have also contributed to the deterioration of the land. The fact that agriculture has also moved closer to the cities also produces a considerable amount of pollution, which has enhanced the vicious cycle Spanish weather is involved in right now. All in all, it might be of interest to consider how living in Spain will change in the following years.
In 2018, the United Nations (UN) anticipated that more than 140 million people will become climate migrants by 2050. That is, many people will leave their homes behind seeking better conditions to live in. Spain will be facing many challenges in that sense.
During the summer of 2022, 4584 people have perished due to a heatwave that has lasted for two months. Never before have we reached such a high number, with peaks such as that of the 18 July, where 184 people died. Heat in Spain has gone from being a prospect of a nice summer to a threat that, as we have seen, can take many lives. With temperatures increasing by 0,20ºC on earth each decade, it feels troublesome to imagine a summer in Córdoba a century in the future.
Within a century, in the year 2120, we will also be dealing with rising sea levels. In Spain, a country which encompasses both the peninsula and the islands, climate change will have a demolishing impact. Cities like Barcelona or Málaga will be partially flooded according to the forecasts of some scientific researches, which claim that the sea level will have risen three metres by then. Places like the estuary of the Ebro river will completely disappear, as well as the Rías Baixas, which always depend on the Atlantic Ocean.
With the Spanish weather threatening to turn into something else, we might reflect on how life will be within a century in a country that many people have considered the best place to live for a long time now.
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