Spain: The Basics. Climate
“The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain”
So the old saying goes.
Spain has many plains. Its capital, Madrid, sits on top of one of them. But the suggestion that most of the rain that falls in Spain does so on its plains is a false one. In reality, the saying was coined by the playwright George Bernard Shaw for his play Pygmalion. There, it is used as an example of a speech pattern. It has nothing to do with meteorological fact.
So where does the rain in Spain fall? And when?
To find the answer, let’s look at the seasons. As in the rest of Europe, Spain experiences the same four seasons of Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn.
Spain is a very mountainous country (it is home to Europe’s highest ski resort), and the winters can be very harsh. It also has a lot of interior, and in Winter big land masses in Europe can experience very cold winters. Other than Spain, Turkey is a good example of this.
Much will depend on the wind direction, and in Winter a northerly wind – with its origins in Russia – is not uncommon in Spain. That same northerly wind can bring with it ‘cold’ weather fronts laden with snow. As you would expect, the snow will fall mainly in the mountains, typically above 1,200 metres. The Pyrenees mountains in the north of Spain and bordering France, often bear the brunt of these cold spells, but the same weather set up can bring heavy snow to the Sierra Nevada range too, in the far south, as well as other ranges – of which there are too many to mention – up and down the country.
One of the coldest cities in Spain is León, which lies inland in the north of the country.
More likely than snow though is rain. In Winter, Atlantic weather systems moving from west to east tend to push further south in Europe, and Spain finds itself on the receiving end. Heavy rain and floods can affect just about any part of Spain in Winter, but less so to the south and east – particularly those areas protected by mountains to the west; here it can often stay quite warm and Spring-like. Conversely, ‘green Spain’, as the north and particularly north west are known, might see rain for days on end.
Spring in Spain comes sometime in March. Much like in other European countries it can be a fickle season, with warm spells brought by southerly winds from Africa, or cold weather left over from Winter.
You can be fairly sure that the south of Spain will be enjoying temperatures into the 20s celsius by the end of March, when the fields will be covered in Spring flowers. This is a great time to explore Spain, as it won’t be too hot!
Nights will be cool and frosts can still occur, especially further north.
Spain has what is termed a ‘typical Mediterranean climate’. In other words, its Summers are dry and hot. In the south of Spain they begin early – Spring is a short season – and last until the end of September at least.
Daytime temperatures around the low-lying Seville area can reach as high as 45 celsius. The nearby town called Écija is known as the ‘frying pan of Spain’ and is where the hottest temperatures have been recorded. Even night time temperatures in the south can exceed 25 celsius, more especially in coastal areas.
For relief from the heat, escape to the mountains or cool off in the sea. The odd thunderstorm might also bring less hot weather, at least for a while. The chances of a cooling breeze are slim, and you are more likely to experience a hot wind such as the Levante, which blows strongly through the Straights of Gibraltar and gives no relief whatsoever!
Over recent years Spain has suffered a lot from drought. Just as so many Winters have been rain-free (in Spring and Summer it is unlikely to rain to any great extent), Autumn too brings with it a crucial need for water.
Autumn is the time when the rains should return, after the long, hot and dry Summer. The fields turn green once again, and one of the most attractive destinations is the north of Spain, where the grape harvest gets into full swing. You’ll also see a lot more Spaniards out on the streets during the day, now the Summer heat no longer traps them in their air conditioned homes.
Much of Speekee was filmed in Arcos de la Frontera, a town not far from Seville in the south of Spain. Arcos also lies close to the Grazalema mountain range – which, surprisingly given its southerly location, is known as the wettest place in Spain.
Until next time readers,
Jim Porter is a co-founder of Speekee®, home of the most comprehensive Spanish learning program for children ever to appear online
Jim began his Spanish learning journey in 1990. He has been a language teacher since 1994 and he lives in sunny southern Spain with his two bilingual children. Loves it! More…