Spain has nearly 8,000 km of coastline (including Canary Islands and Balearic Islands). Half of it lies along the Atlantic and the rest borders the Mediterranean. Compared to its neighbours further north, Spain is less affected by winter storms from the Atlantic. However, higher storm activity under climate change over the adjacent Atlantic is likely to lead to an increase in the intensity of winds over some parts of the country by the end of the century. Maximum wind speeds could increase by 2-4% in northwestern Spain by the end of the century, while in Galicia, the number of days with high winds could increase by up to 10% (1).
Another type of storm made its first appearance on the Iberian Peninsula in 2005: Europe’s first hurricane – Hurricane Vince – landed on the southwestern coast of Spain in October. It was the farthest northeast a tropical storm had ever developed in the Atlantic and it developed over water that was thought to be too cold to be able to support a tropical storm. Following Hurricane Vince, the tropical storm Delta hit the Canary and Madeira Islands in November 2005, leaving behind severe damage, power outages and fatalities. However, so far scientists cannot say whether there is a relationship between such unusual storms and climate change (1).
Vulnerabilities – Future storm frequency and intensity
Model simulations (based on a climate change scenario showing 1°C less global warming than the SRES A1B scenario) suggest that tropical hurricanes might become a serious threat for Western Europe in the future (2). An increase in severe storms of predominantly tropical origin reaching Western Europe is anticipated as part of 21st global warming. An eastward extension of the development region of tropical storms is projected. In the current climate, the main genesis region for hurricanes is confined to the western tropical Atlantic, where sea surface temperatures are above the threshold (27°C) required for tropical cyclones to develop. Future tropical storms that reach western European coasts (and cause hurricane-force storms) predominantly originate from the eastern part of the tropical Atlantic. This is because climate warming in the eastern tropical Atlantic causes sea surface temperatures to rise well above the 27°C threshold.In addition to an increase in the frequency of severe winds (Beaufort 11–12), a shift is projected of the season of highest occurrence from winter to autumn (2).
After their formation, tropical cyclones move in a north-westerly direction. When they reach the mid-latitudes they are caught by the predominant westerly winds, thereby veering their track in a north-easterly direction, with the possibility of reaching Western Europe. Geometrically, this likelihood increases if their genesis region in the tropical Atlantic is further to the east. In addition, the shorter travel distance in the mid-latitudes will enable the “tropical” characteristics of hurricanes to be better preserved along their journey to Western Europe. Hence, the likelihood of these storms maintaining their strength when reaching Western Europe will increase, because there is simply less time for them to dissipate (3).
The references below are cited in full in a separate map 'References'. Please click here if you are looking for the full references for Spain.
- WWF (2006)
- Haarsma et al. (2013)
- Hart and Evans (2001), in: Haarsma et al. (2013)