Extreme summer temperatures in Iberia: health impacts and associated synoptic conditions

García-Herrera R., Díaz J., Trigo R.M., Hernandez E.
Annales Geophysicae , 23, 239-251

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This paper examines the effect of extreme summer temperatures on daily mortality in two large cities of Iberia: Lisbon (Portugal) and Madrid (Spain). Daily mortality and meteorological variables are analysed using the same methodology based on Box-Jenkins models. Results reveal that in both cases there is a triggering effect on mortality when maximum daily temperature exceeds a given threshold (34° C in Lisbon and 36° C in Madrid). The impact of most intense heat events is very similar for both cities, with significant mortality values occurring up to 3 days after the temperature threshold has been surpassed. This impact is measured as the percentual increase of mortality associated to a 1° C increase above the threshold temperature. In this respect, Lisbon shows a higher impact, 31%, as compared with Madrid at 21%. The difference can be attributed to demographic and socio-economic factors. Furthermore, the longer life span of Iberian women is critical to explain why, in both cities, females are more susceptible than males to heat effects, with an almost double mortality impact value. The analysis of Sea Level Pressure (SLP), 500 hPa geopotential height and temperature fields reveals that, despite being relatively close to each other, Lisbon and Madrid have relatively different synoptic circulation anomalies associated with their respective extreme summer temperature days. The SLP field reveals higher anomalies for Lisbon, but extending over a smaller area. Extreme values in Madrid seem to require a more western location of the Azores High, embracing a greater area over Europe, even if it is not as deep as for Lisbon. The origin of the hot and dry air masses that usually lead to extreme heat days in both cities is located in Northern Africa. However, while Madrid maxima require wind blowing directly from the south, transporting heat from Southern Spain and Northern Africa, Lisbon maxima occur under more easterly conditions, when Northern African air flows over the central Iberian plateau, which had been previously heated.