Hottest summer in Spain: tracking heatwaves, fires, mortality and drought

Entry type: Single project

Country/area: Spain

Publishing organisation: elDiario.es

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 2022-06-01

Language: Spanish

Authors: Raúl Sánchez, Victòria Oliveres, Ana Ordaz, Raúl Rejón, Carmen Martínez


Raúl Sánchez: Spanish data journalist covering stories of inequality, health, taxes and urbanism at elDiario.es. He coordinates elDiario.es data team.

Victòria Oliveres: journalist member of elDiario.es data team. She is specialized in data gathering, analysis and visualization and focused in education, health and environment stories.

Ana Ordaz: journalist member of elDiario.es data team. Supporting with data and visualization stories at elDiario.es and focused on covering politics, culture and social stories with data.

Carmen Martínez: trainee journalist specialized in data visualization and covering social stories

Raúl Rejón: journalist specialized in environment, climate change, health and agriculture stories at elDiario.es

Project description:

Summer 2022 was especially hot and dry in Spain. Climate change brought to the country record temperatures and lack of rainfall. These had consequences in water reserves, fire activity and mortality. elDiario.es monitored maximum temperatures, wildfires, basin water levels and excess deaths during the whole season and published automated articles to track how these different indicators were evolving in comparison to previous years. The collected data and rolling analisis was also used to inform and contextualize, in various moments, the records that had been broken.

Impact reached:

Our record summer coverage included a maximum temperatures tracker (link 2) and a wildfires tracker (link 4) that were updated every morning. Apart from the daily automated reports, we periodically updated our articles about dam water levels (for example, link 5) and excess deaths during heatwaves (link 7).

We were the only media in Spain that published a daily tracker during the summer. This allowed the audience to verify with data if their feelings of it being a hotter or colder summer than the previous one in their region, or one with more surface being burnt, were real. They shared their specific territorial visualizations on social media. So it was a public service tool to raise awareness about the consequences of climate change.

As we had the data collected, we used it to publish a final overview of how hot the summer had been (link 3) and a historical analysis of the increase in tropical nights in different cities. A similar historical analysis was published about how this summer Spain experienced a record in deaths caused by hot temperatures (link 6).

Apart from the usefulness, some of the pieces included in this coverage were highlighted by its use of interactive data visualizations that helped understand and access a high volume of data.

Techniques/technologies used:

To automatise the data collection from multiple sources (for example, the Spanish climate agency API for the hourly temperatures data) and in different formats (for example, shapefiles from the NASA for the wildfires data) we used R. The same software was used for data wrangling, analysis and automatic update of the visualizations, which were created using Datawrapper, Flourish, Javascript, D3.js and Canvas. To illustrate the articles about wildfires and dams, we used a slider of Copernicus satellite images programmed with Javascript.

Context about the project:

To develop this series of articles, reports and trackers, we needed to look for data from many different sources. Selecting the ones that best explained the problem and putting them all together in a fast and automated way was one of the challenges of this project.

We programmed an R script for each indicator that put together some manually collected data with automatic downloads in various formats and compared this summer data with previous ones. With the same code, charts and visualizations were updated just with a click.

Also, apart from the trackers, the situation analysis included examples and expert voices to contextualize the data and visualizations, so we made sure we delivered a global approach of the climate change problem and its multiple faces.

What can other journalists learn from this project?

With this series of articles we show the importance of talking about weather not only for forecasts. We interpreted and visualized the daily temperature data so that the reader could understand whether or not what was happening was normal. In this way we brought a global problem as the climate change problem closer to the audience daily life.

We also linked different events together as they were different sides of the same problem: deaths caused by heat waves, drought or wildfires are all consequences of climate change. And we approached this problem linking its causes and consequences, not as if they were single and apart events.

It also showed that live data monitoring and visualization, widely used nowadays for the pandemic coverago, can be exported to other fields.

Project links: