Spain is a country almost as large as France. Together with Portugal, with which it has a long land border on the west, it forms a large peninsula south of the Pyrenees, with the Atlantic Ocean on its western and northern side and the Mediterranean Sea to its south and east. The large size of the peninsula and the different climatic influences of the Atlantic and Mediterranean result in a variety of climates within Spain. It is a mistake to think of the whole country as having a typical Mediterranean climate such as is found in the tourist areas along the east and south coasts and in the Balearic Islands.
In the north the Pyrenees and Cantabrian Mountains rise to between 1,800 m/6,000 ft and 3,000 m/10,000 ft. Much of interior Spain is a plateau with an average height of 450 m-900 m /1,500 ft-3,000 ft, crossed by a number of mountain ranges (sierras). In the south of the country (Andalusia) the valley of the Guadalquivir River forms a wide lowland, to the south of which lies the high Sierra Nevada, which dominates the narrow Mediterranean coastlands. These large differences of altitude and the contrast between coast and interior give Spain a range of climatic and weather conditions. Although most of the country is hot and sunny in summer there are great differences of temperature in winter; coastal areas are mild but the interior is frequently cold and snowy. Skiing can be enjoyed on the nearest mountain ranges to most of the large towns of the country.
Spain can be divided into three climatic regions: the north and northwest, central Spain, and the Mediterranean coastlines of the east and south including the Balearic Islands.
North and Northwestern Spain
Including (with towns and cities in parentheses) Galicia (La Coruña, Santiago de Compostela, Vigo), most of Asturias (Oviedo), Cantabria (Santander) and Pais Vasco (Bilbao, Vitoria), northwestern Navarra (Pamplona).
This is the part of the country most influenced by depressions travelling in from the Atlantic, particularly in autumn and winter. It is the rainiest and cloudiest part of Spain. Although summers are cooler, cloudier, and wetter than elsewhere in the country there is still a considerable amount of warm, sunny weather. Rainfall decreases from west to east in the Pyrenees but is quite high on the seaward slopes of the Cantabrians and in the extreme northwest (Galicia). Daily hours of sunshine average from three in winter to seven or eight in summer. See the tables for Coruña (in Galicia) and Santander.
Including (with towns and cities in parentheses) Aragon (Zaragoza), Castilla-león (Salamanca, Segovia, Valladolid), Castilla-la-Mancha (Toledo), Extremadura (Badajoz), La Rioja (Logroño), and Madrid (Madrid), inland Andalusia (Córdoba, Granada, Jerez, Seville) and Andalusia's Atlantic coast, southern inland parts of Asturias, Cantabria, Navarra, and Pais Vasco, western inland parts of Catalonia, Murcia (Murcia), and Valencia.
Rainfall is generally rather low over most of the interior although winter snowfall may be quite heavy and lie for a long time on the mountains. In late summer much of the country has a burnt and barren appearance after the long summer drought. The old French saying, 'Africa begins at the Pyrenees', has some truth in it if it is taken to refer to the heat and dry appearance of much of the countryside in summer. Summers are generally hot, particularly in the Guadalquivir valley in the south, where some of the highest temperatures in Europe are recorded. Spring and early summer tend to be the wettest seasons in many places, but the rainfall is light and not very effective as it often falls in short, heavy showers. Winters have frequent cold spells with biting winds blowing off the snow-covered sierras. Dust and hot winds are the most unpleasant features of the summer weather, but low humidity makes the heat more bearable than in some of the coastal regions. The length of the dry summer season increases from north to south. Sunshine amounts are quite high throughout the year, ranging from an average of five hours a day in winter to as much as twelve hours in midsummer.
The table for Madrid is representative of the conditions in the higher parts of interior Spain, while that for Seville, in the Guadalquivir valley, is typical of the lower and hotter parts of Andalusia.
Mediterranean Spain - the East and South Coastal Regions and Balearics
Including (with towns and cities in parentheses) southeastern Andalucia: Costa del Sol (Almería, Málaga, Nerja); coastal Catalonia: Costa Brava (Barcelona, Tarragona, Sitges); coastal Murcia; coastal Valencia: Costa Bianca (Valencia), the Balearic Islands.
This area includes the internationally famous tourist resorts - the Costa Brava in the north and the Costa del Sol in the south. Sunshine amounts are high: from six hours a day in winter to twelve in midsummer. Winters are mild and much warmer than inland. While summers are hot and at times humid, the afternoon heat is usually tempered by sea breezes. In the south conditions can occasionally become rather unpleasant when a hot, dry wind (the leveche) blows from North Africa. In much of the region, rain is very rare during the months June to August but north of Valencia the coast is liable to occasional heavy downpours of thundery rain in summer. Around Barcelona and farther north autumn tends to be wetter than winter; here the total rainfall is greater than in the south, some parts of which are dry even in winter. In the drier regions there are considerable differences in the amount of rainfall from year to year. See the tables for Barcelona, which is representative of the northern coastal regions, and Almería, which is typical of the drier regions in the south. See also the table and description for Gibraltar.
The Balearic Islands, which include Majorca, Menorca, Ibiza, and Formentera, are situated 170-250 km/100-150 mi to the east of Spain and are a popular winter and summer resort for visitors from northern Europe. They have a climate similar to that of southeastern Spain (see the table for Palma, Majorca).
Including (with towns and cities in parentheses) El Hierro, Gran Canaria (Las Palmas), Fuerteventura, La Gomera (San Sebastián), Lanzarote (Arrecife), La Palma, and Tenerife (Santa Cruz).
The Canaries form an archipelago of seven main islands, situated in about latitude 28°N, some 100 km/60 mi off the coast of North Africa. They are rugged volcanic islands with the highest peak, on the island of Tenerife, rising to 3,700 m/12,200 ft. This high mountain is snow-capped in winter, in marked contrast to the mild winter temperatures experienced at or near sea level. The waters of the Atlantic Ocean are here rather cool because of the cold Canaries current; thus, summer temperatures rarely rise very high, while winters are mild.
The warmest days in summer occur when hot, dry air is drawn out from the Sahara desert and reaches as far as the islands. This air may sometimes be laden with fine dust particles blown from the desert. However, it reaches the islands with a raised relative humidity and lower temperatures after its passage across the cool ocean water. The weather may be disturbed for a few days at a time in winter under the influence of an Atlantic depression, but such stormy and wet periods are not frequent. Some fog and cloud may occur in the summer months, which are usually dry and sunny with no very hot days. The northern shores of the islands, being more exposed to the predominant northeast trade winds, are rather wetter than the sheltered southern coasts. Daily sunshine hours range from an average of six in winter to as many as eleven in the summer months.
Administratively the islands are an integral part of Spain, having been occupied by Spain in the 15th century. The table for Las Palmas is representative of conditions at or near sea level.
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