Azores: Weather Overview
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 summer is hotter but the hottest and coldest temperatures are much milder than in other locations at the same latitude, for instance, Lisbon and Philadelphia. 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 to 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 of 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 the 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 susceptibility to hurricanes make the Azores sound like the 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 Islandâs 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 Azoresâ 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 to 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 islandâs position on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge means the drop off from shore is incredibly steep. The flora of the island is almost exclusively European.