Freak Wildfire Outbreak Strikes Northern Spain During Winter

Over the weekend an unexplained wildfire outbreak erupted across the Asturias and Cantabria regions of Northern Spain. In total, more than 100 blazes flared as 60 mile-per-hour winds and freakishly warm temperatures in the upper 60s to lower 70s (Fahrenheit — 15 to 20 degrees Celsius) spread across Spain’s northern coastal provinces.

(More than 140 active wildfires swept across Northern Spain over the weekend. Video Source.)

More than 200 firefighters responded to the strange outbreak — one all-too-certainly linked to record warm global temperatures in the range of 1.06 C above 1880s averages. Fortunately, there are currently no reports of injuries or loss of property or life. Just an odd and somewhat terrifying mass wildfire eruption occurring in typically damp North Spain at a time near the Winter Solstice.

Another Abnormal Winter Wildfire Event

Though the cause of these fires has yet to be officially determined, temperatures in the range of 9-18 degrees Fahrenheit (5-10 C) above average and very strong winds — gusting up to 60 miles per hour — likely contributed to this anomalous winter wildfire outbreak. This warm air flow was pulled northward along the eastern edge of a powerful Atlantic weather pattern that, through most of Fall and Winter, has been hurling strong storms into Iceland, coastal France, the United Kingdom, and Scandinavia. These warm winds gained extreme intensity on Saturday and Sunday and likely sparked and fanned the wildfires (in much the same manner that Santa Anna winds risk wildfires in California).


(On Saturday and Sunday, powerful southerly winds and abnormally warm temperatures swept over Northern Spain — setting the stage for a freak mass wildfire outbreak during winter time. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

It is not usual at all for wildfires to occur during Winter anywhere in Spain, especially not along the northern coastal regions where cool, wet weather tends to prevail as December transitions into January. But this year the typical rainfall pattern has been interspersed with warm, windy periods and comes at the end of a long, much hotter than normal year. A heat that has almost certainly contributed to a fire year that, for Spain, has resulted in the burning of more acres during 2015 than for all of the previous two years combined.

As with other recent large Winter wildfire outbreaks, the influence of a human-forced warming of the global climate system is writ large. Winter wildfire outbreaks, especially in the Northern Hemisphere, are becoming more frequent — with some major winter wildfire outbreaks even extending to regions near or above the Arctic Circle. Fires that are upshots to an overall extension of the fire season combined with a much greater frequency of wildfire outbreak. It’s trend that comes both from a larger warming of the Earth’s climate system. And not only does the added heat itself fuel a higher frequency of wildfire outbreak, it also increases drought intensity and the speed of drought onset — which generates a compounding factor for increasing wildfire frequency.

Major news media sources reporting on these incidents have yet to make this all-too-obvious link. And, given continued sparse analysis on human forced climate change as a whole, it’s questionable that they ever will.


Forest Fires Sweep Across Northern Spain Despite Winter Rain

Spanish Firefighters Battle Over a Hundred Fires in Asturias

Fire in Spain: More than 140 Active Fires

Arctic Wildfires in Winter

2015 Hottest Climate Year on Record

Earth Nullschool

Hat Tip to Wharf Rat


Leave a comment


  1. Loni

     /  December 21, 2015

    I feel for those folks, as last summer’s fires here in Northern California, next to the Trinity Alps were so bad and close that I had to stay inside for about 6 weeks. I tried to work in the smoky conditions, but would spend the evening coughing like a coal miner, and I couldn’t leave the farm in case of an evacuation order at which time I would have to load up the animals. It was a real mess.

    Speaking of last summer Robert, you posted about the middle east, Iran or Iraq if memory serves, reaching a wet bulb temp of 32 or so degree C. Do you remember exactly what that temp was? I wanted to share that story, but was stopped by my faulty memory.

    Hope all is well, and Happy Holidays to you and yours.

  2. A little bit to the north in The Netherlands there are many reports of plants flowering that shouldn’t be doing that, birds making nests that shouldn’t be doing that. Things are off here.

    • Are you saying we have plants flowering near or north of the Arctic Circle during winter time?

      • Dan in Oz

         /  December 22, 2015

        The Netherlands isn’t really that close to the Arctic Circle. I know in the UK it’s been abnormally warm. In fact Boris Johnson (Mayor of London and tory) wrote an article in the UK Daily Telegraph about it, obviously walking a fine line between accepting climate science and bagging it. The comments below the article are scary… so many people hanging on to the status quo with anything they can find, which under different circumstances they’d rule as totally ridiculous.

        • Brain hiccup that. I transposed Scandinavia with Netherlands. In any case, flowering in the Baltic states is certainly rather odd for this time of year. Looks like we’re hot anywhere south of the Jet right now with a strengthening storm track that’s displaced quite a bit further north.

    • – The same here in PDX USA:… “plants flowering that shouldn’t be doing that, birds making nests.”
      The only things behaving ‘normal’ are the disconnected citizenry of drivers and shoppers — totally out of touch with reality. For them, reality — the actual world around them does not exist.
      An existential threat cannot manifest in such s void.
      No need to worry about climate or anything else relative.
      -These upsets of natural rhythms are most alarming. They are a indictment of the deep cruel side of fossil fuel man. I curse us/them with every breath.

    • Ryan in New England

       /  December 21, 2015

      We’ve been having things bloom here in Ct, too. It’s going to be 70 here on Christmas Eve! Things are absolutely nuts, and off the charts. We’re looking to break our previous record high by 10-15 degrees.

      • Mblanc

         /  December 22, 2015

        Good stuff from the Guardian on el nino vs CC contribution. People in t-shirts doing their Xmas shopping have been reported over the last week or so, which is unusual, with night time temperatures at near record levels.

        “The first 17 days of December have been the mildest on record by a remarkable 1.1C. The average temperature during this period, of 10.6C, is similar to what can be expected around the beginning of May.”

        Secretary general of WMO

        “This event is playing out in uncharted territory. Our planet has altered dramatically because of climate change. So this El Niño event and human-induced climate change may interact and modify each other in ways which we have never before experienced. El Niño is turning up the heat even further.”

    • Crikey! Well here in SE Louisiana we have Ixora bushes — which aren’t even supposed to be zone-hardy here — put out new shoots like it’s spring in Miami. And we’ve had a lot of rain with nighttime lows around 70F (21C) instead of cold front frenzies with daytime highs in the 50s F (10-15C) like we should be having. Quite a change from the past two years and their brutal winter freezes!

  3. Anthony Sagliani ‏@anthonywx 11m11 minutes ago

    Much of Europe also experiencing excessive warmth for December standards.

    • Jeremy in Wales

       /  December 21, 2015

      Warm? The winter solstice could be warmer than the summer solstice! Could be 17C tomorrow in parts of the UK. I miss cold mornings – odd to say – but a little ice is invigorating.

  4. Jeremy

     /  December 21, 2015

    Daffodils have begun to bloom in Devon,UK!

  5. DrFog

     /  December 22, 2015

    The north Atlantic coast of Iberia, which includes Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and Euskadi, is quite beautifully green and cool, with temperatures rarely reaching and going above 30C, even in summer. Forest fires are quite rare there, with exception maybe of more inland Galicia.

    This time of the year it is usually quite humid there, with lots of rain, fog and cool temperatures. For forest fires to be taking place there at this time of the year must be really, really extraordinary.

    Worryingly, the current GFS forecast for that area shows some parts close to the north coast reaching 18C on Christmas day:

    Max temperature records keep being broken all around, even in the UK. If it is so hot now during winter, I shudder to think how it might be in the summer.

  6. My town, Bergen, on the west coast of Norway is going to experience both a new record in precipitation total for a year as well as the number of precipitation days. It’s looking more and more like a scene from Blade Runner.

  7. We’ve just had an extreme heat event here in NZ (36 C + in many places, breaking records by 2 C or more) – most of the South Island had record highs on Monday but our national forecaster made a too-rapid response:
    “Yesterday’s hot weather may have been record-breaking, but it was not necessarily extraordinary….”It’s summer – it gets hot. Yes, it is hot,” Niwa forecaster Chris Brandolino said yesterday.” Forecaster is govt. funded and in the last few years moving in lockstep with our (very) right-wing govt. This statement was made before any proper analysis”

    NZ El-Nino’s historically have resulted in cooler-drier summers, but this one (and the 1998/9 event) have had brief to long heat events in them too. I’m still trying to confirm but these look unique to modern EN events.

  8. Abel Adamski

     /  December 29, 2015

    And still continuing, even scoring a mention in a Murdoch publication, guess some of their readers would have been holidaying in that region and would start to wonder why they didn’t mention it


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