Northern Africa

Northern Africa Weather Overview

The region of North Africa comprises of Western Sahara and the countries: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and the Sudan. North Africa is predominantly desert with narrow bands of semi-arid and milder, Mediterranean climates near the Mediterranean coast, north of the Atlas Mountains which stretch from Morocco to Tunisia. As it is relatively mild and fertile this coastal strip of northern Africa is the most heavily populated area in north Africa and the most visited by tourists. Away from the moderating effects of the sea, even within the fertile strip, temperatures become increasingly extreme further inland. Morocco has a Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts; Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt all have Mediterranean coast lines; Western Sahara meets the Atlantic Ocean. Sudan lies south of Egypt and so its portion of the Sahara lies in its northern half. Southern Sudan receives a much wetter, tropical climate.

The Mediterranean region of North Africa receives hot, dry summers, often with droughts and fires. Rainfall is minimal and if it does fall in the summer it usually takes the form of a short thunderstorm. Temperature varies greatly depending on proximity to the coast. Seaside areas can expect temperatures around 10°C cooler than interior regions in the summer, and a couple of degrees warmer in the winter. Interior regions also see the drop in temperature from day to night is dramatically increased.  The Atlantic is a much cooler body of water and places on the Atlantic coast are usually cooler than those on the Mediterranean. The Atlantic and the Mediterranean both provide cooling breezes in the summer heat. Light rainfall can be expected from April to Jun, and in September and October, with the true rainy season falling from November to March. Rainfall is higher further west and near the coast. The Sirocco wind can occur at any time of year but is most common in April and May. The warm, dry summers are seen as the best time to visit, though inland areas can be horrifically hot.

The resort of Agadir on the southwest coast of Morocco sees summertime average highs in the mid 20s, while in Marrakech, which is further inland, sees average highs in the mid 30s. Morocco sees plentiful rain in the mild winter months, apart from in the far south where the Sahara creeps in.

Algiers, the capital of Algeria, sees summer highs nearing 30°C with nights in the low 20s. The lowest average high is 15°C, seen in January and February. Rain levels are very high during the wet season and it is often overcast.

Tunisia is the smallest and northern-most country in North Africa, and only its southern tip reaches into the Sahara. Monastir sees average highs in the low thirties during the peak months of summer, as do the rest of Tunisiaâs coastal resorts. Winter is usually slightly drier in comparison to other Mediterranean resorts.

Libya receives very low rainfall year round even during the wet season at higher altitudes. Some areas of the Libyan Sahara go for decades without rain.

Egypt is similar, with Cairo seeing an average of twenty-nine millimetres of rain per year.

Sudan sees almost no rain from January to March. In April moist south-westerly winds blow in thunderstorms and heavy rainfall. In September the dry, north-eastern winds return and the wet weather begins to recede; the country is entirely dry by December. As the rain comes in from the southwest and the dry weather approaches from the northeast, the rainy season differs in length from location to location; South-westerly areas receive much longer rainy seasons. Yambio, in the southwest, has a nine month rainy season from April till December, in comparison with Khartoum which has a three month rainy season from July to September. As is to be expected, areas with longer rainy seasons receive much higher levels of yearly precipitation, and areas with shorter rainy seasons see more extreme temperatures. The south central plains are quite arid, as they border the desert, and see extreme temperatures, while southern Sudan has a tropical climate, characterised by its high rainfall and excessive humidity.

The only significant waterway in North Africa is the Nile and so fertile regions hug the coast line, the Nile delta and the Atlas Mountains. The mountains encourage much higher levels of precipitation; rain and meltwater trickle down and the surrounding lower regions are thriving farmland. The Atlas Mountains are relatively close to the coast and south of them is the Sahara. There are a few small desert oases but the majority of the 8.2 million square kilometre sand pit is barren. The minimal rainfall that the desert does receive falls mainly in the south. Frequent storms are dry sandstorms; furious winds whip tons of sand across the continent and give rise to the hot, sand bearing Sirocco wind that torments coastal regions and Mediterranean resorts across the sea. When the rain falls it does so in heavy torrents causing flash flooding. The Sahara sees daytime high temperatures up to 55°C and night time lows below freezing. The lack of cloud cover, vegetation and humidity means the desert has minimal insulation and is therefore susceptible to these extremes of temperature, solely reliant on the presence or absence of the strong, equatorial sun.

The Atlas Mountains are to be thanked for their provision of water to lower elevations on their north side. But they are also to be blamed for the Sahara. Their immense height blocks humid air blowing in from the Atlantic and Mediterranean. The trapping of this moist air forces precipitation to form and fall on the northern face, while preventing it from travelling over to the south side of the mountains. This creates what is called a rain shadow. The rain deprived land lying in that shadow is, in this case, a true desert.