The Azores have a maritime sub-tropical
climate experiencing warm to mild temperatures year round with moderate
rainfall. From day to day the weather is characterised by changeability, but
throughout the year changes are small and gradual. Winters are cooler and
summers hotter but the hottest and coldest temperatures are much milder than in
other locations at the same latitude, for instance Lisbon
There is a great deal of regional variation in weather conditions due to the
topography of the islands, which is mountainous due to their volcanic origin.
Sitting in the hurricane belt in the Atlantic Ocean,
the islands are susceptible to hurricanes between August and November. A hit is
very rare but the islands are still affected by the bad weather caused by the
passing of these destructive systems.
The Azores are an autonomous region of Portugal, one of two, the other being Madeira. It is nowhere near Portugal,
however, sitting 1500 km to the west of Lisbon
in the North Atlantic Ocean. The rich history
of the islands, due to their importance as a port of call for ships crossing
the North Atlantic, has led Angra do Heroismo, a city on Terceira Island,
to be classed as a world heritage site by UNESCO.
Summer, from July till September, is hot but not
uncomfortable with average highs in the mid 20s. Rainfall begins at its lowest
for the year but increases throughout the season and is generally
unpredictable. July and August see around seven hours of sunshine per day, but
this is often shared between days of endless sunshine and a few days of storms.
With 84 mm of rain falling at the end of the season, September receives twice
the amount of rain as August. Rain often falls in thunderstorms and, blown by
northeast winds, is heavier in northeast regions and in the mountains. Hurricanes
are possible throughout the season but risk is highest in August and September.
Autumn, in October and November, receives pleasantly warm
days with the average high temperature at 21°C in
October and 18°C in November. Night times become cool,
rainfall increases to quite persistent levels and the sun hides behinds the
clouds for longer and longer each day. November is only second wettest to
January by 2 mm, seeing 133 mm of rain on average, falling on over half of the
days in the month.
Winter, from December till March, is
very mild but really quite gloomy. The average high does not fall below a very
reasonable 16°C, and the average low does not fall below 10°C. Snow and frost
are unknown in coastal lowlands. But in December and January the sun only comes
out for around three hours per day, and it can rain on up to twenty days in a
month. Strong winds blowing from the west and southwest concentrate rainfall on
these sides of the islands, and often whip up large storms that make seafaring
very dangerous. However, winter starts with the end of hurricane season and
these storms are preferable to tropical cyclones.
In spring, from April till June,
weather conditions steadily improve. Rainfall drops, getting almost down to
July levels by June, and the sun finally starts to shine again. The sea remains
nippy throughout the season and day time highs do not get into the 20s until
the end of June.
High levels of rainfall and a
susceptibility to hurricanes makes the Azores sound like Caribbean Islands.
But while they lack the endless blue skies of the Caribbean
summer, they share their verdant green landscape and have a preferable low
level of humidity year round. The best time to visit the Azores
is between June and August when temperatures are high and rainfall is low. Hurricanes are really not very likely at any
time of year but you should still check on hurricane activity in the area
before a journey to the islands.
The weather conditions described above are relevant to the
coastal, low-lying areas of the Azores such as Ponta Delgada on Sao Miguel, or Madalena on Pico Island.
Higher up in the mountains cooler temperatures are to be observed throughout
the seasons; mist and fog forms occasionally and snow is not unknown in winter
months, especially on the peak of Pico Island’s
volcano. Due to the wind in the wetter months coming from the west, western
areas are much wetter than eastern regions. The driest eastern areas receive
around 700 mm of rain per year, while the wettest western regions receive a
whopping 1600 mm per year. The windy weather creates perfect conditions for
sailing and windsurfing.
The mild temperatures that are received year round are due
to the Azores’ location the warm waters of the Gulf Stream.
The Gulf Stream is also known for being rich
in nutrients, as is volcanic soil. Fertility combined with high levels of rain
and an absence of extreme temperatures has lead to thriving plant and wildlife
in the sea surrounding the Azores and on land.
This has made the Azores a popular destination
for big game fishers, and also for scuba divers. Scuba diving is a favourite
activity of visitors hoping to catch a glimpse of the manta rays and sharks or
white sperm whales that live there. Until 1980 Pico Island
had a large whaling industry. Now they continue to benefit from the whales via
tourism. Whales can be seen very close to land as the island’s position on the
Mid-Atlantic Ridge means the drop off from shore is incredibly steep. The flora
of the island is almost exclusively European.
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