The Climate in Spain


Spain has a varied climate; a climate with three distinct climatic zones, distinguished by their geographical position and elevation.  In meteorological terms, the three major climates experienced in Spain are known as Mediterranean, oceanic and semiarid climates.  Mention should also be made of the two sub-climatic zones in Spain, the alpine climate, found in the Pyrenees and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges among other places; and the subtropical climate, found in the Canary Islands, which are also part of the country’s territory. Below we will describe each of these climates in great detail, including the regions of the country in which each of them are most dominant.

The Climates of Spain:  Mediterranean

The Mediterranean climate is the primary or dominant climate in Spain.  It is characterized by warm and generally dry summers and cool, wet winters.  Within this climate classification there are essentially two varieties:  the Typical Mediterranean Climate, known as “Csa” on the Köppen climate classification; and the Continental Mediterranean Climate, known as “Csb” on the same scale.

The Mediterrenean climate is the primary climate in SpainThe typical Mediterranean climate, which is dominant in the cities of Barcelona and Valencia, among others, is strongly influenced by the prevailing winds in the regions where this climate is dominant.  The regions of Spain along the Mediterranean coastline experience Leveche winds:  winds that originate over North Africa that are dry and hot, with easterly or southeasterly air currents.  When these winds occur, usually in the spring, the region may experience a sudden and relatively short-lived increase in temperature.  The more common wind in Spain’s typical Mediterranean climate is the Levante wind, an easterly wind that funnels between the Sistema Penibetico and the Atlas Mountains of North Africa.  These winds, which tend to be humid and mild and temperature, “are the ones that most influence the typical Mediterranean climate.”

The Continental Mediterranean Climate is found primarily in the inland areas of the Iberian Peninsula, in a region that includes Zaragoza, Madrid and the many towns and villages that surround the Spanish capital city.  In these inland regions, the summer months tend to bring very warm weather, regularly exceeding 90 degrees F or more.  The winter months can range from mild to very cold, 35 degrees F or less, with the higher elevations on the Central Plateau regularly receiving snowfall, sometimes heavy.  Rain rarely falls during the summer.  However, the spring and autumn seasons regularly bring rain, at times very measurable amounts.

The Oceanic Climate

Areas that experience an oceanic climate stretch from the western shores of Europe, Portugal to Norway, and on the western littoral of America, from San Francisco to British Columbia in Canada.  In Spain, the oceanic climate is dominant from the Pyrenees Mountains to the Asturias—an area commonly referred to as “Green Spain,” which also incorporates the region of Galicia.  In all of Spain’s oceanic regions, both the climate and the landscape are strongly influenced by the winds of the Atlantic Ocean—winds whose moisture gets trapped by the mountains circumventing the Spanish Atlantic coast.  From a climatic standpoint, the area known as Green Spain differs greatly from the remainder of the country.  Rainfall tends to be abundant in the region and is evenly spread out among the seasons.  Even in August, which is typically the driest month, Green Spain averages 1.2 inches of rain, the minimum criteria for an oceanic climate according to the Köppen scale.
 
The temperatures associated with Spain’s oceanic climate range from cool to mild, with very little variance from season to season.  The high temperatures in the coldest month (January), for example, average 48 degrees F; while in July, the warmest month, the average high temperature is only 69 degrees F.  The Atlantic Ocean has a lot to do with the mild and wet weather in Spain’s oceanic regions.  In fact, the further one moves inland from the coast, the warmer and dryer the weather becomes.  Like other northern coastal regions of Europe, fog and mist are very common occurrences in Green Spain, particularly along the northwestern coast.
 
While the Galician region also has an oceanic climate, the weather conditions there can vary slightly from those regions along the northern coast.  Here the year-round temperatures are mild, with slightly drier summers, and the rainfall, while still much more plentiful than that experienced by those in the Mediterranean regions of the country, is not as bountiful as it is along the northern coast. 

Semi-Arid Climate

The southeastern region of Spain, encompassing the Alicante, Murcia and Almeria provinces, experiences a semi-arid climate, known as “Bsk” on the Köppen climate classification.  In these regions of the country, the summers are known to be hot, in fact very hot, regularly exceeding 104 degrees F, and rainfall is practically non-existent.  These temperatures and drought conditions can sometimes extend into the autumn months as well.  The total rainfall in the southeast region is often less than 5 inches a year, even less in the region of Cabo de Gata, known as the “driest region in all of Europe.

Other Climatic Zones in Spain

While the majority of Spain’s territory falls under one of the three main climate categories (Mediterranean, Oceanic, Semi-arid), there are actually two other types of climatic zones in the country.
 
The first climatic subzone is the Alpine climate.  This climate, which is the norm in many northwestern European nations, is dominant in Spain’s highest regions, including the Pyrenees, Sierra Nevada, Picos de Europa, Sistema Central and Sistema Iberico.
 
The Canary Islands feature the other climate type, known as a subtropical climate.  This weather category is characterized by stable and very mild temperatures, generally ranging from 64 to 75 degrees F throughout the year.  The westernmost islands receive more rainfall than the semi-arid eastern islands, with the wettest regions being the mountains of La Gomera and La Palma, home to the cloud forest known as “laurisilva.

Temperature Records:  Highs and Lows

To give you an idea regarding the temperature extremes that can be experienced in Spain, the following table shows the record high and low temperatures in a select number of Spanish cities.
 

                 Location

Record Highs

Record Lows

 

 

 

Typical Mediterranean Climate

 (Celsius)              (Fahrenheit)

(Celsius)              (Fahrenheit)

Murcia

       47.2                        117.0

      -6.0                           21.2

Malaga

       44.2                        111.6

      -3.8                           25.1

Valencia

       43.0                        107.6

      -7.2                           19.0

Alicante

       41.4                        106.5

      -4.6                           23.7

Barcelona

       39.8                        103.6

      -10                            14.0

Seville

       47.0                        117.0

      -5.5                           22.1

Continental Mediterranean Climate

 

 

Zaragoza

       43.1                         108.7

       -16                            3.1        

Madrid

       42.2                         108.0

       -19                            3.6

Burgos

       41.8                         107.2

       -25                            -13

Northern Atlantic Coast

 

 

Orense

       42.6                          108.7

       -9.0                            16

Bilbao

       42.0                          107.6

       -8.6                            17

Gijon

       36.4                            97.5 

       -4.8                            23



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