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Hazardous Weather in Spain - Know The Best Time To Travel


The weather in Spain (especially the southern and eastern coastal areas) is the envy of most of the other European countries since warmth and sunshine are the order of the day, even in winter.

In fact in recent years, more and more people from northern Europe are moving to southern Spain in order to retire. Well, why wouldn't you?

You can go skiing, sunbathing and swimming all in one day if you want. There's not many other European countries that can offer that!




Select the region of interest below to find out detailed weather information:



I've also written an additional page about the general weather conditions in Tenerife.


Main topics covered on this page



The tourism industry tries to advertise that the weather in Spain is always fantastic in the hope that you'll travel to Spain all year-round. You can do that of course if you know the months in which a particular severe weather event is likely to occur.



What region has the worst weather in Spain?

Many people don't realise that the area bounded by the towns of Zaragoza, Barcelona and Valencia are subject to severe thunderstorms that may produce flash flooding and hail. This commonly occurs during the autumn months of September, October and November.

Another region in Spain that is frequently hit by severe weather is the Balearic Islands but this too only normally occurs during the autumn.

If you didn't know this and you're thinking of travelling to Spain, then you may find that your arrival in Spain coincides with the occurrence of a local severe weather event.

Spain has numerous types of severe weather hazards, however most of these are confined to the central, eastern and southern parts of Spain.

This photo was taken at a lookout just out of Barcelona.
The view from a lookout near Barcelona

Spain is affected by dust storms, hailstorms and tornadoes, floods, air pollution, prolonged drought as well as heat waves that are accompanied by bush fires.

Thankfully, these events do not occur everywhere in Spain nor do they coincide at the same time.

Now that I've said that, the great thing about the weather in Spain is that the severe weather never lasts long.




Dust Storms

Given that Spain is so close to North Africa, it will come as no surprise to you that the weather in Spain can get very dusty when hot winds blow in from the Sahara desert. Typically these dust storms sweep across Spain from May to September.

If the dust storm is severe enough, the sky will be transformed into darkness. So when severe dust storms occur, (though not very often), you'll have to scramble to find some protection since the dust will prevent you from doing anything outdoors.

These Saharan dust storms cover a very large area and typically affect southern central and eastern Spain but most of them aren't severe.

You might be even lucky enough to escape their presence all together (as long as you don't stay in Spain too long).

The locals aren't particularly fazed by the arrival of a dust storm since they are so common. It's common place to have everything covered in dust. People use the commercial car wash to wipe off the dust and so you might even have to do that yourself if you hire a car.

Thankfully, these dust storms are short-lived and normally hang around for 1-4 days. But there are occasions when the dust storm will stay around for up to two weeks. Such prolonged dust storms occur once every 10 years or so.

The Canary Islands also get frequent dust storms but they occur during mid-to-late winter (end of January and February) and early spring (March).

Since these dust storms are loaded with tiny mineral particles then they may aggravate people with existing respiratory problems. If you suffer from asthma and are planning to travel here during these months then be sure to bring along your asthma medication just in case.





Windiest town in Spain

Tarifa is the windiest town in Spain. It's extremely rare if there's no wind and so that's why it's the windsurfing capital of Europe. wind surfing capital of Europe-TarifaIt is also the most southerly town on mainland Spain, being located near the Strait of Gibraltar. It is constantly being buffeted by strong easterly winds, even at night.

The photo on the left was taken at the beach near Tarifa. As you can see, this area is also very popular with people who want to try their hand at any type of water sport activity.


Although Tarifa has the windiest weather in Spain, most coastal districts to the east of Tarifa are subject to windy conditions as well. This occurs particularly in summer when sea breezes occur every day without fail. In the autumn months, windy conditions will occur during thunderstorm activity and in winter, when colder air sweeps into the region from a passing cold front.

If you're travelling up into the mountains, you can also expect that the winds will be strong since the wind speed always increases the higher you travel above sea-level.



Bushfires

Did you know that Spain suffers the worst forest fires out of any other Mediterranean country (with the exception of Portugal)? Generally, the most common months for these fires is from July to September. Unfortunately, these fires occur nearly every year and have been particularly bad in recent years due to the prolonged dry weather over many parts of Spain.

One of the worst regions affected by bush fires is the Valencia region, but the north western parts of Spain around Galicia also suffers badly as well.

The hottest weather in Spain occurs during late summer/early autumn, and for this reason, such high daytime temperatures dries out the vegetation. When a fire is ignited, the dry fuel encourages the rapid spread of bush fires throughout the mountainous regions. That means that if you have the choice of travelling to mountainous regions of Spain outside these months, then you should do so.

I'm not trying to put you off travelling to Spain during the summer months, but please take every precaution so you have a back up plan if a bushfire does hit where you're travelling to.

You might have guessed that around 40% of these fires are deliberately lit. Around 20% are due to careless accidents and only a tiny fraction (2-3%) is due to lightning. The cause of the rest of the fires is unknown.



Droughts

You may be interested to know that the number of droughts in Spain hasn't increased. However, when these droughts occur, they are now lasting longer than they used to and so in that sense, droughts are becoming more severe in Spain.

While drought may not affect you directly when you're staying in Spain, it certainly affects the people living there. This was particularly true in the year 2005 when most of Spain was in the middle of a five-year drought.

This drought forced many hotels, villas and the like out of business since the tourists didn't want to stay at accommodation that had an empty pool. Likewise many farmers had their livelihood ruined since their livestock and crops died due to lack of rain.

Even recently in February 2008, Spain was in the middle of a four-year drought since winter rains were again less than half of what they should be. Many people are concerned that Spain will turn to desert, but that's unlikely. Most of the vegetation in Spain has been removed for agricultural purposes as well to expand urban areas and is not a consequence of the lack of rain.

So if you're planning to visit Spain, please be mindful of the lack of water in the reservoirs and try and help conserve the little water they've got. Some of the Canary Islands use advanced desalination technology and so they aren't reliant on rainwater or groundwater.

During prolonged periods of drought, the summer months are gripped by heat waves (especially in the southern and central parts of Spain). In comparison, the winter months can be unseasonably cold when the weather is so dry!

Normally the dry weather in Spain breaks suddenly with the arrival of flooding or severe storms. So this leads me into the next topic of discussion:



Tornadoes and waterspouts in Spain

If you know these facts, you'll be able to advise family members that travelling to the Balearic Islands and Catalonia during the autumn can be a bad idea.

A climatological study that began in 1986 has shown the Balearic Islands and Catalonia (NE Spain) suffers the highest number of tornadoes and waterspouts out of any region in Spain. These tornadoes can form any time from late July through to early December but the majority of these tornadoes occur during September and October.

The worst tornado outbreak on mainland Spain occurred around Barcelona on the 7th September 2005. Up to five tornadoes affected the Barcelona International Airport as well as the densely populated suburbs of Barcelona.

These Barcelona tornadoes are weak in comparison to those that form in the United States but they still can cause considerable damage. Wind speed during these tornadoes can range between 80-150km/hr.

While it's highly likely that you'll never see tornadoes and other types of severe weather in Spain (in particularly in the areas I've just mentioned) during your visit if you only stay for a couple of days. But there's always the chance that you will.

My best advice to you is avoid travelling to the Balearic Islands and Catalonia during the autumn. In that way you'll avoid most forms of severe weather.




Thunderstorms, heavy rain and hailstorms

Yes, severe weather in Spain is accompanied by hail and flash flooding despite what the tourism industry says. Such nasty weather events occur quite frequently in the eastern part of the Iberian Peninsula. In particular, along the Costa Blanca coastline north from about Valencia to the border of France and also over the Balearic Islands in the autumn months.

Here's three facts about the weather in Spain in this unique area:

  • This area has between 10-20 thunderstorm days per year.

  • It has around 10 hail events every year and these occur from May through to September.

  • Rainfall can sometimes exceed 400mm over a 24 hour period in some cases which would be disastrous if you're holidaying there.


However, you can take some simple precautions by not travelling to specific locations where this occurs. Or better still, choose your travel dates so they occur outside the storm season.

In southern Spain, the worst storms and heaviest rainfall occurs during the autumn. In comparison, most other regions of Spain have their rainiest and stormiest weather in the winter time.

You can guarantee that the weather in Spain (mainly the southern parts) during the summer will be without any rain.




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