Algeria: Weather Overview
Algeria is more than eighty per cent desert and as such, it predominantly has an arid desert climate. However, the Atlas Mountains and the northern Mediterranean coast give rise to large regional variation in climatic conditions. The coastal strip receives a warm Mediterranean climate. South of this area conditions become increasingly arid with more extreme temperatures, punctuated by the cooler, wetter mountains. The countryâs rain falls almost entirely in the winter season between October and April, and some regions rarely receive rain at all.
While the north coast of Algeria on the Mediterranean Sea receives enviable weather almost year-round with high heat, brilliant sunshine, low humidity and little rainfall, this does not make it an ideal holiday destination for the average holidaymaker. The countryâs troubled recent history, including a struggle for independence from France in the 50âs and a brutal civil war in the 90âs, means that even now it is in a state of civil unrest. A state of emergency was declared in 1992, and this is still in place. Widespread poverty and unemployment, not to mention what Amnesty International terms as âinstitutionalisedâ human rights violations and also a string of terrorist attacks, are some of the less attractive sides of Algeria. The Foreign Office advises against travel to many areas in Algeria, though it does deem Algiers safe enough, at least in the day time.
The Mediterranean Coast of Algeria and the Tell Atlas Mountains
The Tell Atlas Mountains stretch right across Algeria, from Morocco to Tunisia, running along the Mediterranean coast. This hilly coastal strip of northern Algeria is home to ninety per cent of the countryâs inhabitants. The area receives a warm Mediterranean climate of long, hot, dry summers and extremely mild, rainy winters. Algiers, the capital city, sits in the middle of the coastline and sees an average high of 32°C in its hottest month, August. In the summer, nighttime temperatures drop around 10°C to the low 20s. From June till September Algiers can expect to receive between 5 mm and 50 mm of rain, but rainfall is usually on the lower end of the scale. The sun shines for around ten hours per day and the humidity is very low. Cooling winds often blow in from the Mediterranean, but hot, dry winds can also blow up from the south. The sirocco wind, originating in the Sahara, brings uncomfortably high temperatures in the low 40s and travels at high speeds, sometimes at gale force. It sometimes carries huge amounts of sand causing sandstorms throughout northern Africa and even as far as European Mediterranean resorts. Sandstorms are generally unpleasant. They reduce visibility, make a mockery of modern transportation, grounding planes and forcing cars to stay put, and do more than gently exfoliate...
Autumn in this region is pleasantly hot and sunny. The heat lessens to more manageable levels, reaching an average high of 25°C in October and 20°C in November in coastal areas. At night it cools down pleasantly and by the start of November, it can even feel a little chilly. Rain starts to fall more regularly from the start of the season, but early autumn is still one of the nicest times in Algeria, in terms of the weather, due to the absence of extreme heat. Sunshine levels do reduce but the region can still expect an average of six or seven hours of sunshine per day.
Algeria is coldest in January but coastal regions remain mild. Mediterranean Algeriaâs lowest average high is 16°C and its lowest average low is 6°C. Frost and snow are incredibly rare as it doesnât tend to get down to freezing. However, the winter of 2008-2009 saw heavy snowfall across the region, paralysing transport and actually killing thirteen people. Rain levels stay around 90 mm per month from November till January, after which they begin to reduce, finishing completely in March. Temperatures get back into the 20s in April. It is best to visit this region of Algeria in the seasonsâ fringes, between April and June, and September and November, if the worst of the heat is to be avoided. However, many prefer the stifling temperatures of the peak months.
Spring weather is also rather pleasant. From late March till the end of May rainfall reduces, the heat rises back into the 20s, and the sun comes out for longer and longer. While May can be quite windy, it is probably the nicest time to visit Algiers due to the bright, sunny weather and moderate heat. May in Algiers sees an average high temperature up 23°C, an average low of 12°C, around ten hours of beautiful sunshine and only a few showers. The Mediterranean waters remain a bit cool at 18°C, but this is not unbearable and would certainly be refreshing.
In the summer wind generally comes from the east and northeast, while in the winter they usually come from the west and northwest. As a result, the northeast of Algeria receives the highest rainfall and the north-facing areas on the Tell Atlas Mountains receive a great deal more rain than south-facing areas, due to a rain shadow effect. The entire area is fertile; the arider southern slopes still manage to support basic agriculture. Precipitation carried by the wind is almost exhausted by the time it reaches the southern edge of the Tell Atlas. The temperature always decreases with increasing altitude and the highest parts of the mountains are much cooler, often receiving snow in winter months. In the east of Algeria and to the west in Morocco, the Tell Atlas meets the Saharan Atlas, enclosing an area of high plateaus called âHauts Plateauxâ or âPlateau of the Chottsâ.
This is a steppe region which means it is flat and highly elevated: 1100 - 1300 metres in the west and 400 metres in the east. The region has a semi-arid sub-tropical climate with extreme temperatures and a reduced, unreliable rainy season. The rain sits on top of the sun-baked terrain forming large, shallow lakes in the wet season which evaporate and create extensive salt flats in the dry season. Low and unpredictable precipitation levels do not support robust plant life and the area is covered in shrubs or grass where it is not completely barren. Huge differences in night and daytime temperatures are seen as low humidity allows for rapid heat loss. Temperatures are similar to those in the Sahara, but actually, feel even worse due to the plateauâs comparatively moderate humidity. In the winter frosts are likely and snow sometimes falls. The area is home to some semi-nomadic tribes as the scrubland is still, just barely, suitable for the grazing of livestock.
The plateauâs aridity can be attributed to the rain shadow created by the Tell Atlas to the north. However, the area is less arid than it might be if not for the Saharan Atlas to the south. The Saharan Atlas acts as a barrier to the even harsher, hotter, drier weather found in the desert. While the sirocco does sometimes get past in the summer, the Atlas Mountains do a sterling job of both creating the desert and protecting the coastal regions of Algeria from the extremes of the desert.
The Saharan Atlas
These mountains run parallel to the Tell Atlas, meeting them at the east and west limits of the high plateau region. They are much higher than the Tell Atlas with a maximum peak of 2236 metres found at Djebel Aissa. Their great height allows them to catch the last drops of rain from the northerly winds and as such see higher rainfall levels than the plateaus to the north. The climate here is alpine and greatly affected by altitude. The summer, from May till September, is hot and sunny receiving little rain. The winter season is cool to cold with snow and ice increasing with altitude.
The Saharan Atlas Mountains from the north border of the Sahara, and have also majorly contributed to the initial formation of the desert, due to their creation of a giant rain shadow. Just between the Sahara and the Saharan Atlas is a narrow band of steppe land where extreme desert conditions can already be seen. In Biskra, the average high temperature is in the low 40s for July and August and the difference between night and day temperatures is around 15°C year round.
The Algerian desert is a diverse place. There are massive areas covered in towering sand dunes in the north, rocky areas and highlands in the southeast surrounding sandstone plateaus and gorges, and a sea of pebbles in the southwest. Temperatures are, unsurprisingly, extreme. In the summer, highs in the mid-40s are often seen while winters remain in the 20s with cold nights that can get down to freezing. Rainfall is minimal and erratic, decreasing the further south you travel. In the winter months, the western harmattan wind becomes violent and whips the desert into huge sandstorms. It can blow sand all the way to North America. It is best to visit the desert in the fringes of seasons, in March or November, when the worst of the heat and cold can be avoided.