16th July 2024
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Possible hottest first quarter on record for Spain, as drought warnings continue despite recent heavy rain

Predictions show that Spain has experienced its warmest first quarter on record since 1961, with January, February and March showing higher temperatures than usual, according to the National Meteorological Agency, Aemet. Mainland Spain saw an average temperature of 9.5°C during this period, 1.9°C higher than the average and 0.1°C higher than the previous record set in 1997.

Although final data is pending confirmation, Aemet believes the first quarter of 2024 was the warmest in history, with January registering the warmest temperatures since 1961, reaching nearly 30°C in some areas. March was also warmer than usual, attributed mainly to a significant period of high temperatures between 14-23 March.

However, this unseasonably warm weather has exacerbated the severe drought conditions seen across several regions of Spain this winter.

Catalonia declared a drought emergency in February, imposing strict water restrictions, while Andalusia and Tenerife also faced dwindling reservoir levels and declared drought emergencies. ALSO READ: Catalonia declares drought emergency that affects six million residents.

March saw some relief with heavy rainfall, which during Holy Week and Easter was three times higher than normal for the last seven days of March, according to Aemet. Large parts of southern and central Spain saw 100 litres of precipitation per square metre in a single day. Some Holy Week processions in Seville had to be cancelled due to the weather. ALSO READ: The rain in Spain forces cancellation of numerous Good Friday parades.

But concerns about drought continue, especially in Mediterranean basins like Andalusia and Catalonia, which remain at low levels for this time of year. Although heavy rainfall from Storm Nelson boosted overall reservoir levels to 63.1% of capacity, concerns about water scarcity persist in many areas.

Minister for Ecological Transition Teresa Ribera told reporters this week that the recent rainfall was ‘excellent’ news, but warned not to ‘let our guard down’ on drought.

The rain brought some relief to Andalusia where regional president Juanma Moreno said the level of drought emergency was unlikely to escalate with some rain in the coming months. He added that it ‘will not be necessary to bring in ships loaded with water’.

Reservoir levels in Catalonia, however, which has been suffering under prolonged drought for around three years, haven’t seen significant improvement.

The Ter-Llobregat system which supplies the Barcelona and Girona area saw a marginal increase in reservoir levels up to around 16 to 17% of capacity but they are still significantly below where they were at this time of year in 2023.

More than 200 municipalities in the region, including Barcelona, declared a state of emergency in February after three years of drought. Though it remains to be seen whether any changes will be made to Catalonia’s Special Drought Plan – which includes water restrictions – it seems unlikely unless April is especially wet.

Catalonia’s Minister for Climate Action David Mascort told local radio that reservoirs need to reach 27 or 28% for emergency measures to be lifted. Removing restrictions now, he said, wouldn’t make sense as it would mean declaring a state of emergency again in a month and a half.

With summer on the way, these heavy downpours do little to relieve the drought situation in Spain in the long term. The relief of unusually wet weather refilling reservoirs only indicates the severity of the ongoing problem.

Scientists also say that these dramatic shifts from extreme drought to heavy rains are only becoming more common with climate change. Europe is one of seven regions where this trend is getting worse, according to a study published last year.

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