Illustration / ALBA MARTÍN CAMPOS

The hottest summer ever on the Costa del Sol

The average maximum temperatures in June, July and August in the city this year is the highest since Aemet began keeping records in 1943

ALBA MARTÍN CAMPOS

The trend is clear: the world is getting hotter every year and Malaga is no exception to the way the planet is being transformed due to climate change.

This summer in the province has been marked by suffocating hot wind and increasingly hot temperatures over a longer period of time. People have been saying it felt like the hottest summer ever and figures from the Aemet weather agency show that they were right. The average of the maximum temperatures in June, July and August was 31.8C, the highest since 1943.

Hotter temperatures for more consecutive days

Aemet uses the thermometer at Malaga Airport to monitor the weather in the city. This year it did not show the highest temperature ever recorded - that was in 1978, when it reached 44.2C - but the hot weather lasted for more days, creating a historic daily average.

As can be seen from the charts accompanying this report, what is unusual is the number of days when the maximum temperatures were between 28C and 35C. The maximum did not drop below 27.9C for three months, apart from four days.

Progressive increase

It is a fact that Malaga is getting warmer as the years go by. The area is experiencing a trend which is global. The curve of maximum temperatures, and also the minimums, is increasing progressively, and that is also the case if we look at the monthly averages.

But isn't this just normal in the summer? No, it isn't, José Damián Ruiz-Sinoga, a professor of Physical Geography at Malaga university and an expert on climate change, told us.

"At 5pm on a day in July in Malaga it will be extremely hot and we know it will be, because it is logical. And if we look a little further inland it will probably be a bit hotter still. The problem is that the atmospheric dynamics don't allow the temperature to drop at night. In other words, there is no adequate thermal variation," he said.

And so we go straight from the summer heat to the autumn cold. "The system is overheating. The anticyclone of the Azores has taken up a position just to the west of the peninsula and is not allowing any mass of air to circulate from the west. As a result, with a sea like the Mediterranean, which is like a type of big lake, it produces a warming effect which becomes a risk at this time of year. As soon as a rush of cold air comes in we are going to have an unstable situation which can bring electric storms and torrential downpours," Ruiz-Sinoga said.

Enrique Salvo Tierra, a professor of Botany at Malaga university with extensive experience in the mitigation and impact of climate change, agreed.

"This is not normal. In two or three years we will probably see highs of 50C here. You have to remember that we are opposite Africa, a continent with a desert where the hottest temperatures in the world were registered last year. It reached 56C and that was only 450 kilometres from here. That's like the distance between Malaga and Madrid," he said.

Minimum above 20C for eight out of ten nights

Malaga is burning hot during the day and also when the sun goes down. On more than 80 per cent of the nights in June, July and August 2022 the temperature was over 20C and most felt tropical. This has a direct effect on health: it causes insomnia and fatigue in many people and makes it difficult to face the day.

The trend towards a higher minimum temperature is also unmistakeable, judging from the data. However, and unlike the maximum temperatures, this summer did not see the highest average of minimum temperatures, although it came close. That record was set in 2015, with 21.93C. This year, the average was 21.86C.

The hottest nights coincided with the start of the Malaga Fair, on 13 and 14 August, when the temperature did not drop below 26C.

Is there a pattern that defines this climate dynamic? No, there isn't, José Damián Ruiz-Sinoga said: "The temperatures recorded have even exceeded the predictions of the IPCC, the body of climate change experts".

Enrique Salvo Tierra also referred to the "island of urban heat", which is the increase in temperature caused by human activity such as the movement of cars and the heat produced by air conditioning units.

"The data shows that there are no cycles. Before 1979 we can say that there was continuity and indeed some summers were hotter and others were cooler. But from the 1980s we can see an initial warming-up of the city which is largely due to the island of urban heat which is created by its own size," he said.

This increase became especially notable from 1995, the Salvo Tierra organisation has explained.

"We are seeing how these average temperatures, these heatwaves, these tropical nights...all of these manifestations of the temperatures in our everyday life have been increasing," it said.

No return, but mitigation is possible

The experts consulted by SUR agreed that this situation is irreversible, in Malaga and the rest of the world. Society is going to have to find ways to adapt to and mitigate the effects of the heat.

"In the atmosphere there is a series of gases that generate microcrystallites and make overheating more severe. For that reason we have to eliminate those gases to counteract the greenhouse effect. But it is going to take many years before we can reduce them," said José Damián Ruiz-Sinoga.

Salvo Tierra puts the focus on a "treatment" which can be carried out immediately: plant more trees in the city.

"The trees 'kidnap' the greenhouse gases and incorporate them into their own systems. In fact, there can be a difference of 12 degrees between standing under the shade of a tree and being outside it. This is the most ideal formula, and especially in Malaga because it does not have enough trees anyway," they said.

Change is even possible at an individual level. Enrique Salvo is convinced that between us all we can collaborate so that, at least, this situation does not progress as fast as it otherwise would.

What can we do? "We can be very careful about how much water we use, we can put warmer clothes on instead of turning the heating up in the winter. And something essential is to encourage more sustainable mobility through the use of public transport. In the meantime, we in the field of research will continue to look for solutions," he said.