Egypt, almost twice the size of France, is situated in northeastern Africa. It has long coastlines on the Mediterranean to the north and on the Red Sea to the east. A small part of the country, the Sinai desert, lies east of the Suez Canal and is, strictly speaking, in Asia. Egypt has land boundaries with Libya on the west, with the Sudan on the south, and a shorter boundary with Israel on the east.
Egypt is one of the hottest and sunniest countries in the world. With the exception of a strip about 80 km/50 mi wide along the Mediterranean coast, Egypt has a desert climate, being entirely within the Sahara. The legendary fertility of Egypt is a consequence of the fact that about 3% of the country consists of the Nile valley and delta. The River Nile has no tributaries within Egypt but is nourished by the heavy rains that fall far to the south in Ethiopia and East Africa. The Nile valley and delta are intensively cultivated by irrigation and contain about 95% of Egypt's population.
The Mediterranean coastal strip has an average annual rainfall of 100-200 mm/4-8 in, which is not sufficient to support crops. Over the rest of Egypt, roughly south of Cairo, the annual rainfall is a mere 25-50 mm/1-2 in. In central and southern Egypt several years may pass without any significant rain. When rain does fall it is usually in the form of a brief and sometimes damaging downpour which may cause a local flood.
The climate of the Mediterranean coastal strip is represented by the table for Alexandria. Here the weather in the winter period from November to March may be quite variable with some cloudy days when rain and disturbed weather are brought by depressions moving from west to east in the Mediterranean. For much of the time, however, the winter weather is warm and sunny; but some cold days occur when northerly winds are strong. Summers are sunny and hot, but the daytime temperature is modified by strong sea breezes on the coast.
The most unpleasant weather near the coast occurs between March and early June, when a weak depression draws very hot air from the Sahara towards the coast. These hot dry khamsin winds are often dust-laden and may raise sand particles in the desert which obscure visibility and irritate eyes, nose, and mouth. Virtually any part of Egypt can experience such winds, and a severe khamsin is most unpleasant and even dangerous. The very high temperatures occasionally experienced at Alexandria and Cairo almost always occur during the khamsin season. Otherwise northern Egypt does not experience the high temperatures regularly recorded in the south of the country.
Winters are generally warm in the south of Egypt, but temperatures fall rather abruptly at night so that desert evenings in winter can be quite chilly (see the table for Aswan). Farther north the nights can be distinctly chilly and occasional ground frost is not unknown. In the Nile valley the humidity from the large irrigated areas causes local morning mist and fog, particularly in winter, but this quickly clears as the sun becomes powerful. On the higher hills of Sinai behind the Red Sea coast, which rise to 2,000-2,300 m/7,000-8,500 ft, snow may fall in winter but it rarely lies for more than a day or so.
The heat of southern Egypt in summer is fierce and there is almost no relief from one day to another. The very low humidity, however, makes the heat more bearable and it is rarely dangerous to the acclimatized visitor. Visitors should allow a period of acclimatization before engaging in vigorous activity during the heat of the day and should also take precautions against sunburn. Shade temperatures are misleading in Egypt, where the sun is ubiquitous, and there is no shade in the desert! Visitors are more likely to suffer minor sickness and stomach disorders in Egypt from unhygienic food and drink rather than from the direct effect of the climate.
From what has been said above it is clear that Egypt has a very sunny climate; daily sunshine hours average about twelve a day in summer to between eight and ten a day in winter. There are occasional completely cloudy days in winter in the north, but very few in the south. Places such as Luxor and Aswan and the few oases in the Sahara desert have an almost perfect winter climate: dry, sunny, and not excessively hot.
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