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Spain has suffered 22,000 heat-related deaths in the last 8 years. How will a new map help?

A woman queues to buy lottery tickets during a hot day in Madrid, July 2022 - Spain's hottest year on record.
A woman queues to buy lottery tickets during a hot day in Madrid, July 2022 - Spain's hottest year on record. Copyright AP Photo/Manu Fernandez
Copyright AP Photo/Manu Fernandez
By Euronews Green
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Spain has pioneered a new heat alert map, as Copernicus reveals where in the country is set to get hottest in the next few months.

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Spain is bracing itself for another blistering summer, after two record hot years.

Copernicus, the EU’s climate service, says there is an up to 70 per cent chance that this summer will be one of the hottest 20 per cent on record for the country.

Last year was the hottest globally since records began, as the world breached the 1.5C global heating limit set by the Paris Agreement for a whole year for the first time.

2022 remains Europe’s hottest year yet, spurred by a significant number of heatwaves, which in Spain claimed around 11,300 lives.

To save lives this year, Spain’s Ministry of Health has released a new map to provide more accurate heat alerts.

It’s one of numerous measures the Mediterranean country, on the frontlines of the climate crisis in Europe, is taking to protect citizens and visitors.

What does Spain’s new heat alert map show?

Launched on Thursday, Spain’s ‘national plan of preventive actions against the effects of excessive temperature on health’ is set to run until 30 September - though could be extended into October if the heat persists as it has in previous years.

The annual scheme has been running for 20 years, after Europe’s deadly hot summer of 2003 caught the continent ill-prepared.

This year the ministry has produced a new map, which breaks the country down from 52 provincial areas into 182 ‘meteohealth zones’.

The map shows the temperature thresholds that trigger heat deaths, which vary considerably between - and within - provinces, hence the need for a more detailed map.

To determine the meteohealth areas, data from hundreds of observatories was compared with the figures for heat-related deaths from 2009 to 2018, researcher Julio Díaz told El Pais newspaper. Local climate adaptations are one of the factors that can make a big difference to communities’ vulnerability.

Spain’s heat warning system takes into account the temperatures from which mortality shoots up significantly in a given area, as well as the forecast duration of heatwaves. The alert system will be ready to launch with the new map on 3 June.

In particular, it is intended to help Spain’s elderly navigate when they are most at risk; when to avoid going out in the middle of the day, and take precautions like drinking more water. Air conditioning and other cooling methods are of course crucial to staying safe at home too.

According to Spain’s daily mortality surveillance system (MoMo), more than 21,700 people died from heat-related causes between 2015 and 2023, most of them over 65 years of age.

Will summer 2024 be Spain’s hottest yet?

Above-normal temperatures are predicted across southern Europe this summer.

Spanish State Meteorological Agency AEMET’s quarterly prediction, until the typical peak-hot end of July, foresees a hotter than usual few months on the Mediterranean side of the country, as well as the Balearic and Canary Islands.

Copernicus has added the Valencia region, Murcia (excluding the south), northern Almería and Granada, Ibiza and Formentera to that list.

Although the ‘new normal’ of climate change makes it hard to know what to expect, many experts are using the 1991-2020 reference period as a baseline.

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The world is expected to enter the La Niña weather phase this year, when the seas become cooler than average. But with climate change rewriting the rules, that doesn’t preclude another record hot year for Spain; its hottest recorded year was in 2022, also during La Niña.

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