Intense heat and little rainfall intensify drought in Spain

Barcelona (Spain, Catalonia) weather station recorded average summer temperature 4.4°C higher than mid-20th century mean

During the current spell of drought that Catalonia is undergoing, the famous sunken church at the bottom of the Sau reservoir has become visible in its entirety, as well as a nearby historic cemetery for the first time in many years.

Drought is officially declared in Catalonia when the total combined water reserves in reservoirs fall below 40%. As of September 16, 2022, the level was recorded at 37%.

From May to September of this year, water reserves in the Sau reservoir have fallen by 51%. Last summer, the reservoir was almost at full capacity, but now it’s only 29% full. This situation has arrived because of prolonged periods of intense heat coupled with little rainfall over the past year. The alarm was first raised last spring, when, after one of the driest winters in 50 years, reservoir levels fell to only around half full.

Hot summer, dry winter, irregular rain patterns

Catalonia has suffered one of the hottest summers on record in most of the territory in 2022. In the Barcelona weather station, which has data stretching back to 1905, the second hottest summer ever was registered, with an average temperature of 26.2°C. This is 4.4°C hotter than the average between 1961-1990.

All parts of the territory saw temperatures between 2.5-5.5°C hotter than summer averages, and most saw record high levels of heat, surpassing records set in a particularly hot summer in 2003.

August also saw very irregular rain patterns. The territory had some periods of heavy rain and thunderstorms but overall it was very dry.

Additionally, last winter was the driest in 50 years, with many parts of the country only getting about 20% of its average rainfall for that time of year. These factors have combined into a disastrous set of conditions for water reserves and agriculture.

Restrictions on water use were introduced this summer in hundreds of towns, including reductions in the use of water for agriculture, industrial use, and recreational use, and the threat of further restrictions looms, potentially even for personal use, as the drought worsens.

Less water in reservoirs also means less hydroelectric power, which accounts for 60% of the renewable energy produced in Catalonia, and 12% of the overall energy.

Across the territory, production fell by nearly 15% between January and July 2022 compared with the same period the year before. Compared with average production in the same months over the past ten years, 2022’s production is almost 35% lower.

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