Spain: Weather Overview
When thinking of Spain's weather your thoughts probably drift to hot sunny days with clear blue skies. Spain does indeed enjoy a generous amount of sunshine, but the country is vast; it has very diverse climates, experiencing a huge range of weather conditions, depending on location.
The climate changes from north to south as the country spans many latitudes, and the east and west are different again as they are affected by the Mediterranean and the Atlantic respectively. Coastal areas have very different weather from the central inland regions. The mountains again are different - Spain is in fact Europe's second most mountainous country.
The weather of Spain is the most diverse in Europe due to its position, coasts, mountains and large land mass. You could be skiing in one part while it’s beach weather in another! The temperature records for Spain illustrate the extremes that can be found across the country. The highest official temperature recorded is a sweltering 47°C in Andalusia in the southern central region of Spain, though other records state a record of 51°C recorded in Seville in 1876. Andalusia is certainly the hottest part of the country, hotter even than the Canary Islands, and is known for its aridity. The coldest temperature officially recorded in Spain is -32°C in Lerida, in the Pyrenean region in the north of the country.
Like anywhere in the world Spain can be subject to unusual weather. Heat waves and droughts can occur. Snow might be seen in unusual places - such as on an Ibizan beach! You might experience an unusually wet summer. Hurricanes and tornadoes are occasionally, but rarely, witnessed in Spain.
In general though, there are six main climates to be found across Spain:
Mediterranean, semi-arid, maritime, subtropical, continental, and alpine.
Altea Playa del Albir of white stones in Alicante, Mediterrenean Spain.
Unsurprisingly, Mediterranean weather prevails right down the east coast of Spain on the Mediterranean Sea, and in the Balearic islands. The Mediterranean climate typically means hot dry summers and mild winters. Sunshine is abundant - averaging 6hrs a day in winter and 12 in summer. Rainfall is highest in autumn and winter and very low in summer. This is the type of weather that has made Spain such a famous beach-holiday destination.
In the summer, rain is rare and sun is guaranteed. Temperatures are hot highs are normally in the high 20s and low 30s, though the cooling sea breezes make for more comfortable days than you get in central Spain. However, some days can get up towards 40°C in mid-summer when the sea breeze is absent. Summer evenings are warm too, usually above 20°C.
The further south down the Mediterranean coast you travel, the hotter it becomes. These regions can also be very windy, providing welcome relief from the heat. However, the southeast coast can be subject to hot winds that blow off the deserts of northern Africa. This is more likely in the summer and can result in periods of drought with uncomfortably high temperatures. Luckily, the Spanish still observe the tradition of siestas which, if you join in, keeps you indoors in the worst of the heat. These winds sometimes deposit red desert sand over Spain - you'll notice this when you look at any of the white buildings or cars.
The northern end of the coast might be considered preferable in the summer to those not immune to endless heat. It is less susceptible to heat waves blowing in from Africa. This area receives higher summer rainfall than the south, even getting the occasional summer downpour, but showers are generally brief.
Winters are mild and daytime temperatures rarely fall into single figures. Days see average highs around 13°C and nights see average lows of 4°C. A sunny winter's day can be very pleasant with the mercury climbing towards 20°C. This is what makes the Mediterranean coast of Spain a good place for those wanting a break from the cold winters of northern Europe. However, these warm temperatures are not to be relied upon. Nights are always cold and the weather in winter is generally much less predictable, especially towards the north; while certainly preferable to northern Europe, even this region of Spain can experience some cold, wet and gloomy days. It has even been known to snow.
Late autumn, winter and early spring is when most of the rain falls. This rain often arrives in short heavy bursts when storms sweep in off the sea. The seasonal difference in rainfall is more pronounced towards the south which sees drier summers but wetter winters than the north.
Late spring is considered a fantastic time to visit the Mediterranean regions of Spain. From mid April temperatures in the twenties are a regular occurrence and by May British summertime temperatures are the norm – and with a great deal more sunshine. However, the sea can be rather bracing as it needs time to warm up after the winter.
Beautiful Benidorm, Spain.
On the southeast coast of Spain is a semi-arid area including the region of Murcia and the southeast corner of Andalusia. This is Europe’s closest point to Africa, with Gibraltar only sitting eight miles from the north coast of Morocco across the Straight of Gibraltar. As you might have guessed, this area is known for being hotter and drier than the surrounding regions. Completely clear skies can be expected for around 150 days a year. Rainfall is largely restricted to spring and autumn when torrential downpours are common. In the summer, daily highs commonly sneak into the low 40s. In the winter areas right on the coast rarely drop into single figures, while inland it rarely gets above 6°C. Many parts of this region feature desert-like landscape due to the lack of rainfall. Almeria is one of the warmest, sunniest and driest places in Europe, expecting an average of absolutely no rain at all in July, and an annual average 200mm.
Maritime weather is experienced by the north and northwest of the country which is heavily influenced by the Atlantic Ocean. Summers are generally warm, without being too hot. Winters are mild, although colder the further you are from the coast. The temperate ocean waters that surround the coast mean that it neither gets extremely hot in summer nor extremely cold in winter. Rainfall is fairly high and occurs throughout the year.
The region has the coolest summer temperatures in Spain (apart from the high mountains) but is arguably the most comfortable area in the country – elsewhere it could be considered to get too hot. Bilbao lies on the northern Atlantic coast of Spain and sees summer highs in the mid 20s, and lows dropping to around 4°C in winter. Rainfall is at its lowest in summer but it is wetter than other parts of the country.
Winters are cool but not too the extreme, though it does get colder the further you move inland. Temperatures tend to be in the low to mid teens during the day and in the low single figures at night. Frosts are common but snow rare. It can be quite grey and wet - something that those of us who come from the UK will be used to! Autumn and winter are when most of the rain falls, with November and December generally the wettest times, seeing about 160mm on average for the month.
Frequent storms hit Spain's north Atlantic coast, accounting for most of the rainfall. A winter storm can be quite a miserable affair with strong winds and sideways rain. It is, though, a time to appreciate the power of the ocean as it batters the coastline.
Mist and fog are also common in winter in coastal areas.
The weather in the Canary Islands is quite unique and very different to the Spanish mainland as they lie far south of Spain, just off the western coast of Africa. They share with Spain a healthy amount of sunshine.
The Canary Islands are typically warm and sunny - they have been dubbed the 'islands of eternal spring'. Summers are hot but not too hot (unless the sirocco wind blows) and winters are very mild with daily highs still in the high teens. Rainfall is low. The main factor in the Canary Islands' exceptional climate in comparison to mainland Spain is their extreme southerly location, at the same latitude as the Sahara. At this latitude heat is guaranteed year round. However, sitting in the Atlantic in the refreshing Canary Current, the Canaries benefit from cooling currents and breezes, generally avoiding extremes of heat found on the adjacent continent.
The weather varies from island to island, even on different parts of each island, especially the more mountainous ones such as Tenerife. Islands to the east, such as Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, are more heavily influenced by hot weather blowing over from Western Sahara and so are typically hotter and drier than islands to the west such as La Palma and El Hierro. The islands are said to be mini-continents as they all have several different microclimates. These are generally created by the effect of the islands' topography on the prevailing northeast winds. This means that the south sides of each island are generally hotter and drier throughout the year than the northern regions, with the majority of the rain falling on the northeast faces of the mountains. Punta Brava, on the north coast of Tenerife, is typically a couple of degrees cooler than Los Cristianos on the south coast. This means you can pick and chose where to go each day depending on your preference for weather.
Sometimes the sirocco wind, a hot, dry an sometimes sand-bearing wind blows over from the Sahara, bringing stifling heat and dry weather. Again, this tends to affect the eastern islands to a greater extent than those in the west. This is the same wind that affects the southern coast of mainland Spain.
Lanzarote, Canary Islands Spain.
Central Spain, excluding its mountains, has a continental climate which means far greater differences between the seasons. Summers are hotter and winters are colder than on the coasts. Rainfall is similarly low in quantity to coastal regions.
Summertime sees high temperatures, plenty of sun and little rain. It feels much hotter than on the coast without the benefit of cool currents and sea breezes. Madrid, right in the centre of the country, can be seen as typical of Spain’s continental climate regions. It sees daily highs average around 30°C but often climbs into the high 30s and can even reach the 40s. Summer nights can be slightly cooler than on the coast due to aridity, altitude and distance from the warm sea.
Winter temperatures can get very cold. Frosts occur every year and snow is common. Madrid sees average lows of 2°C in the middle of winter, and the temperature often drops below freezing. It still remains quite sunny in winter. Madrid sees an average of five hours of sunshine per day from November till January.
Rainfall across central Spain is not high - between 400mm to 600mm on average per year. Spring and autumn are the wettest times of year and summer the driest, but unlike on the coast winter is typically quite dry too. However, towards the north summer weather can be quite wet, giving this region of Spain its lush green landscape.
As mentioned earlier, Spain is the second most mountainous country in Europe. The Pyrenees climb to a peak of 3404m; Sierra Nevada climbs to 3478m, the highest point in Spain; the Cantabrian Mountains get up to 2648m; and there are many more mountains in central Spain. Spain’s mountains see mild summers, cold winters and strong winds. Altitude is a huge factor in the climate of the mountain regions. Higher altitudes see lower temperatures and less seasonal variation while lower altitudes see cooler versions of the continental climate surrounding them. It is generally drier in the east than the west due to winds sweeping in from the Atlantic Ocean.
The Pyrenean region in northern Aragon, which splits Spain from France, is on average the coldest region of Spain. The Pyrenees has the highest concentration of popular ski resorts, though there are thirty-five ski resorts in Spain, spread across the country.
View of Vall de Nuria Sanctuary in the catalan pyrenees.Spain