Spanish Weather and its consequences

Spain is situated in south western Europe, but unlike any of the countries surrounding it, the climate not only has the features of western Europe or the Mediterranean, but also -and this is the case for the bulk of the country- a 'continental climate'.

Any brief look at the map will notice that Spain is not just one long beach! There's a lot in the middle. Not only that, but the land rises up sharply from the sea everywhere except in the south west making Spain's average height the highest in Europe, about 400 metres or over 1000 feet. Madrid, at almost 700 metres above sea level, is also by far the highest capital in Europe. The Gulf Stream touches Galicia, in the north west, while the south and east are more desertified, like north Africa.

A few features of Spain's weather will show how different it is to 'mild and misty' Britain -and why missionaries from the American mid-west feel far more at home:

'Mild and misty' can well the describe the north coast and especially Galicia.
'Warm', with sweaty summers would be the basic description of the Mediterranean coast and the Balearic islands. September is the closest time of year to a monsoon here, with an occasional feature known as the 'Gota Fría'.
The Canaries claim the description 'Eternal Spring', with much cooler weather in the summer than in the Med. but much warmer in the winter. temperatures here range from 20ºC to 30º
The rest of Spain has the 'Continental Climate' which is primarily dry, with severe winters, getting down to -20ºC (-10ºF) and extremely hot summers, temperatures reaching the mid 40sC and occasionally even 50º. There are, of course, regional variations, with the south western parts suffering less in the winter and more in the summer, while the north is generally the opposite.

The rain in Spain does not, as the proverb goes, fall mainly on the plain. There are many mountain ranges and the north evidently gets most. The further south and east, the less the rain, so that Almería has an average of just 3 days of rain in a year. The main rainy seasons are October-November and April-May. There are those who claim 'the Virgin always cries on Good Friday' and it is true that Easter falls right in the spring rains period -not the ideal time of year to head for the beaches and yet many do just that!

Extreme weather phenomena

Snow is a major feature in the winter. There is always snow on the major ranges during the winter months and skiing is popular, especially in the Pyrenees, but also elsewhere. At Easter you can ski on the peninsula's highest mountains close to Granada and swim the same day in the Mediterranean, just 50 miles to the south. On a more worrying note, snow often cuts off villages and indeed regions from each other, particularly in the north.

Summer is generally dry, with occasional heavy rain storms every three or four weeks. Sometimes, the rain even becomes hail and causes much damage to fields and property. Due to the drought, there are frequently forest fires, sometimes set by arsonists, often by cigarrette ends or from the sun shining on broken glass. Many hectares burn each year.

Worse still, towards the end of summer the 'Gota Fría' (thermal inversion) is a feature of the mediteranean, especially in Catalonia, but extending also to the Balearics and Valencia. Due to changes in the upper atmosphere, sudden rain storms can develop and in just a few minutes a parched landscape is turned into a flood disaster area. River beds which have been dry for months, being turned by holiday-makers into streets and parking areas, are suddenly filled over a metre deep with torrential water which washes all it finds down to the sea.