Weather: 25 degrees in winter: another new normal | Climate and Environment

The striking images of bathers in the Bay of Biscay dressed in Santa Claus hats, who took a dip to receive the year taking advantage of unusual temperatures of 25 degrees in winter, can be very funny, but in reality they do not have any because the thermometers should have marked on January 1, 11 degrees less in Bilbao and 12 degrees less in San Sebastián. In the space of one year, two consecutive winters, Spain has experienced a historic snowfall, the hardest cold wave in 45 years and a heat wave in January. Is it due to the natural variability of the weather without anthropogenic causes, as the deniers allege, is this normal? It is not, say experts who, in the absence of attribution studies, link it “without a doubt” to climate change.

This episode of heat in winter has been qualified by the State Meteorological Agency (Aemet) of “extraordinary” and “anomalous” both for its intensity ―with temperatures as a whole six degrees higher than usual and up to 10 degrees on New Year’s Eve, typical of April or May and in some areas such as Galicia, in July― and for its duration ―from December 27 to 3 from January-. Analyzing the records of the National Climatological Data Bank, the agency concludes that they were the warmest days for the season since records exist.

During those eight days no less than 36 records of heat in winter, both maximum and minimum temperatures. “It is very remarkable that Segovia and Salamanca smashed their monthly maximum record by 3 and 2 degrees – the usual thing until now was that the records were only exceeded by a few tenths -, that Bilbao reached 25º in December for the first time in history and that in A Coruña, Pontevedra or Lugo on January 1 the record for both maximum and minimum was broken”, explains Rubén del Campo, spokesman for the Aemet.

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The key to these unusually high temperatures, details the AEMET spokesman, was the arrival from the Caribbean of an air mass that was already warm in origin, which crossed an Atlantic that was warmer than normal and that overheated once in the Peninsula by a phenomenon called subsidence. “To date, we have never had such a warm air mass over Spain at that time,” notes Del Campo, to underline that “the ultimate cause of what happened fits perfectly with a situation in which the planet is hotter.”

Along the same lines as Del Campo, Juan Jesús González Alemán, also an Aemet meteorologist, affirms that this episode, which would have resulted in a very harsh heat wave if it had occurred in summer, is associated “without a doubt” and “with all likelihood” to climate change. “I have no doubts, as no one who is dedicated to this has,” he says. “There is an extensive literature explaining how climate change is behind an increase in the frequency and intensity of summer heat waves and winter heat episodes, as well as warmer winters in general,” he argues. Although qualitatively it is a fact that the hand of man is behind this specific case, to quantify the extent to which “deep and specific attribution studies” are needed, in which their probability is compared in an unmodified climate and in the current, as both meteorologists recall.

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For Del Campo, the most striking thing is that “not a year” has passed since Spain suffered the coldest fortnight of January in 35 years and now, the warmest week in at least 70 and, in between, a heat wave in August in which 47.4º were reached in Montoro, the historical temperature record in Spain. “All this fits perfectly in a scenario in which, due to climate change, extreme phenomena, previously very rare, are increasing”. In his opinion, 2021 has been “a paradigmatic year in terms of climate change in Spain” due to many other episodes, among which he cites the floods in the Ebro, with three times more water than normal in the Bay of Biscay and northern Navarra between the second fortnight of November and the first of December.

González Alemán assures that the anomalous nature of this situation can be seen perfectly when they are placed Philomena and this heat in a graph where all the meteorological events are represented with their associated frequency. “In a normal, stable, pre-industrial climate, most days are in the center of the curve, while extreme events occur every few years,” he explains. A) Yes, Philomena it would have less than 0.1% chance of happening and this winter, as has never happened since the seventies, that there are satellites, and with some higher records in specific locations, “even less”. “The curve is shifting towards higher and higher temperatures,” he warns.

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Along with the obvious increase in global temperatures, which is well studied, another less known and more complex problem is climate variability, “with a curve that is being deformed and a very crazy climate that happens very quickly and with frequency of one end to the other,” says González Alemán. “All this indicates that something is happening and there are more and more voices that point out that climate change also affects variability,” he warns. “All of these are unequivocal signs and are already part of a climate that we do not know and that behaves in different ways,” he concludes, to recall that 2021 has been anomalous on a global scale, with records of 49.6 degrees in Canada in July and of 19.4 degrees in Alaska in December. “The records, climatically speaking, are broken every 10 or 20 years, this breaking them every two times three, from one extreme to the other in such a short time and for such a difference is really anomalous”, he reiterates.

“What has happened in 2021, an extremely variable year, is not normal. Welcome to the new climatic era”, says González Alemán. With this closing firecracker, the Aemet assumes that last year will probably end up being classified as warm, which will be the eighth consecutive year with temperatures above the normal average. “It will be the first time that for such a long period of time all the years are warm in our country,” says Del Campo. Looking at winters alone, five of the last six have been warm or very warm or extremely warm, including last winter despite Philomena, and with 2019 to 2020 as the warmest since there are records. When it comes to records for hot days and cold days, 13 days of 2021 were the warmest for their date since 1950, while no day was the coldest for their date, despite the very low temperatures recorded after the storm Philomena. In the last decade, 11 times more records have been broken for heat than for cold.

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