Mainland Spain and Portugal recorded their hottest ever April temperatures as an early heatwave slammed into the region, with the mercury in some places hitting almost 39°C, officials said on Friday.
Temperatures hit 38.8°C on Thursday at Cordoba Airport in southern Spain, believed to be a record for the month of April, state weather agency AEMET said on Twitter.
The previous record high temperature in mainland Spain was set in 2011 in the eastern city of Elche, when the mercury hit 38.6°C.
In Portugal, temperatures in the central town of Mora reached 36.9ºC on Thursday, breaking the record of 36ºC set in April 1945 in the north-eastern town of Pinhao, the country's Ipma weather agency said.
But the provisional data in both countries has yet to be confirmed in a process that could take days.
The highest temperature for all of Spain in the month of April was recorded in 2013 in the Canary Islands off the north-west coast of Africa, when the mercury hit 40.2°C.
Spain and neighbouring Portugal have been gripped by an unusually early heatwave, driven by a mass of hot, dry air coming up from Africa.
The mercury hit 32°C a little after noon (1000 GMT) on Friday in Cordoba and the central city of Ciudad Real.
Temperatures began dipping a little in Portugal on Friday and Spain is expected to see the same at the weekend.
The scorching temperatures have prompted warnings of wildfires and worsened drought conditions that have already led some farmers not to plant seeds this year.
Long-range weather forecasts show Spain and other parts of western Europe will continue to face unusually warm temperatures next month, offering little relief from drought risks.
Europe already faced its worst drought in centuries last year and saw prolonged periods without rain over the winter, which was the second-warmest on record.
“Very dry soils are being observed across Iberia indeed, with the region being under widespread drought warnings,” said Andrew Pedrini, a meteorologist at AtmosphericG2.
“Warmer temperatures and lack of precipitation may worsen drought conditions over there through the next couple of weeks.”
Some relief for drought warnings may come from a more unsettled pattern taking shape towards mid-month, said Maxar Technologies’ meteorologist Matthew Dross.
However, Mr Pedrini is less optimistic and sees no significant force improving drought conditions.
Prolonged heat could pose a test for governments, utilities and agriculture, with about 60 per cent of the Spanish countryside already gripped by drought as of mid-April. Southern Europe is a heavyweight in fruit and vegetables, and lower harvests could worsen the region’s food-price inflation.
Meanwhile, eastern parts of Europe are likely to experience colder weather in May, according to Maxar.
And the UK’s cool, wet start to spring should pave the way for above-average temperatures paired with lower odds of windy spells in the second half, its national forecaster said.
Wind power will be below average for the UK and Nordics, at normal levels in Germany, with some windier periods in southern Europe, said Vasileios Pappas, a meteorologist at MET Group, a Swiss energy company. Lower wind generation could send power prices higher due to greater reliance on traditional fuels for heating.
Hydropower reservoir levels are also likely to decline in Iberia and Scandinavia, Mr Pappas said.
The exceptionally mild winter marked a stroke of luck for Europe since it helped reduce gas needs during the energy crisis. However, a particularly hot spring and summer may increase demand for cooling and thwart efforts to refill storage tanks ahead of next winter.
The continent’s gas inventories currently are more than 58 per cent full, about 20 percentage points above the average for the previous five years.
Last year, Spain experienced its hottest year since records began, with UN figures suggesting nearly 75 per cent of its land is susceptible to desertification due to climate change.