Temperatures in parts of southern Spain are forecast to exceed 42C on Saturday as a heatwave of "extraordinary intensity" brings dusty skies, a heightened risk of forest fires and blistering conditions more usually seen in high summer than mid-May.
The Spanish government activated its national plan for excess temperatures on Thursday evening after the state meteorological agency, Aemet, warned that Spain was facing “one of the hottest Mays in this country in recent years”.
Aemet said a mass of hot, dry air is blowing in from Africa, carrying with it dust from the Sahara and "exceptionally high" daily temperatures that are between 10C and 15C above the seasonal average.
“The last updates to the meteorological models confirm the extraordinary intensity of this heatwave,” said Ruben del Campo, a spokesperson for Aemet.
“For Spain as a whole, it could be the most intense May heatwave of the past 20 years in terms of both the maximum and minimum temperatures. Friday and Saturday will be the hottest days in general terms and, although there will be an important drop in temperatures on Sunday across the western third of the peninsula, that could be the hottest day in parts of the eastern side of Spain and in the Balearic islands.”
InteractiveMapThe forecaster said temperatures in Andalucia’s Guadalquivir valley could pass 40C on Friday and exceed 42C the next day. Even as the heat subsides elsewhere, he added, there could be temperatures of 40C or above in the north-eastern Ebro valley – “something unheard of in that area in May”.
Spain recorded its highest ever temperature last August, when the mercury in the Andalucian town of Montoro reached 47.4C.
Mr Del Campo reminded people of the “extreme risk” of forest fires in southern, central and north-eastern areas, and also told them to expect another orange calima dust cloud.
“This will be an extreme episode and the risk that comes with the high temperatures will be important in many areas,” he said.
“Another thing to be aware of is dust in the air, which could lead to calimas in the south and east of the peninsula, with murky skies and reduced visibility. That concentration of dust in the air could increase on Friday and Saturday across the peninsula and the Balearic islands as air comes in from north Africa carrying the dust from the Sahara. That will again cause a decline in air quality.”
The Spanish government advised people to keep hydrated and wear light clothing, adding that a close eye should be kept on children, pregnant women, and older and chronically ill people.
Saharan dust cloud
The Saharan dust cloud is also due to blow over the UK, which experienced its hottest day of the year so far on Tuesday when temperatures in the south-east peaked at 27.5C.
Spring heat records have also been broken in France as the country enters its 38th consecutive day of above-normal temperatures, with parts of the south already exceeding 33C and some models predicting temperatures will rise locally to 37C or even 39C by the end of the week, around 17C hotter than the seasonal average.
The southern towns of Albi, Toulouse and Montelimar have all equalled or exceeded their previous records for the month of May, registering 33.7C, 33.4C and 33.8C respectively on Wednesday, while even La Hague in north-western Normandy reached 27C, breaking a record for May dating back to 1922.
In Paris, the overnight temperature from Wednesday to Thursday did not fall lower than 20C, the first time that has happened so early in the year in the century and a half since records in the capital began. At 3am, the mercury was still close to 22C.
The heatwave is expected to continue in southern France until at least Sunday and possibly Monday, Meteo France said, adding: “This is an exceptional period of high temperatures in terms of how early in the year it has occurred, how long it is set to last, and how much of the country it covers.”
The state forecaster said it was now “highly likely” that this would be the hottest May on record, with average temperatures forecast at least 3C above normal across the whole month, and locally much more. In 2011, the hottest May on record so far, average temperatures were only 1.8C higher than the norm.
Fran?ois Jobard, a Meteo France forecaster, said France had not suffered a May heatwave “since national figures began to be compiled in 1947. The hottest day in May has always remained well below 25.3C. In fact, that temperature has never yet been reached in France before 20 June”.
Water use has already been restricted in 16 of France’s departements (regions), with 22 – mainly in the south-east and south-west – reckoned to be “very likely” to suffer serious drought by the end of the summer. Worrying ozone levels were also recorded in the Rhone valley this week, authorities said.
Meteo France said such episodes of extreme heat are likely to become longer and more severe, start earlier and recur more frequently as global heating advances – although it added that there was no indication this year that the unusually hot spring heralded a record-breaking hot summer.
Earlier this week, the UK Met Office said the chances of the record-breaking recent heatwave that has pushed temperatures in parts of India and Pakistan to 51C had been made over 100 times more likely because of the climate crisis. – Guardian