Winter in Spain What to expect

VALENCIA PROPERTY NEWS - Fuente: Thinkspain - 27 / 01 /2021
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YOU'VE read about Spain's record rainfall, wind speed, wave height, coldest and hottest temperatures (if you haven't, check out the fascinating set of numbers here – and keep a note of them as conversation-starters for later), but what is a 'normal' winter like in the westernmost Mediterranean country, and how much does it differ depending upon where you are?

Of course it snows in Spain - Granada city, home of the Alhambra Palace (pictured here) is on the edge of the Sierra Nevada, one of the country's best-loved ski resorts (photo: @Spain on Twitter)
Talk to anyone in northern Europe who has only seen Spain during summer beach holidays and you'll find yourself explaining over and over again how, yes, we do have snow, hence our multiple ski resorts; yes, it does get cold in winter and, no, of course we haven't got a tan, because it's January, for goodness' sakes. But do Spanish residents spend the winter wishing they were in Scotland because it's warmer, or are gloves and woolly scarves really redundant south of the Pyrénées?

Research into four decades of temperatures in a 'normal' Spanish winter

Thankfully, the recent freezing snap brought by 'Storm' Filomena - when thick snow blocked roads and shut schools in Madrid for weeks and parts of the north registered temperatures below -30ºC in the early hours - has now passed, and although other weather fronts significant enough to be given human names have been queuing up to hit us, the Arctic climate of early January seems to have left us in peace for now. For some of us in Spain, that means a light-ish coat and a thin-ish top are enough for braving the outside world, whilst for others of us, it means step past your front door without your thermals at your peril.

To find out where on the scale we are based upon where we live, research has just been compiled by the State meteorological agency, AEMET.

César Rodríguez Ballesteros, of its National Climate Data Bank Service, analysed average temperatures in provincial capital cities nationwide over the complete months of December, January and February between 1971 and 2010 inclusive.

The Canary Islands were studied separately, given their unique location – roughly a two-hour flight south-west of the mainland and 100 kilometres off the coast of southern Morocco – which means their climate differs largely from the mainland, Balearic Islands, and even from the city-provinces of Ceuta and Melilla on the northern Moroccan coast.
Coldest week of winter

In general, the second and third weeks of January are the chilliest time of the year anywhere in Spain other than the Canaries, and the coldest part of the country during this fortnight is the northern part of the central plains – the region of Castilla y León.

Daytime maximum temperatures average 6ºC in the provincial capital city of Palencia between January 6 and 12, and 6.4ºC in Burgos and 6.5ºC in León between January 7 and 13, being the coldest places and times of year at the warmest part of the day.

As for lows – the bottom temperatures in a 24-hour period, which are usually found in the few hours before daylight, typically from about 04.00 to 07.00 in the morning – the coldest place you can be during the coldest weeks of a 'normal' winter is Teruel. In this southern Aragón city, Spain's smallest provincial capital with barely 36,000 inhabitants, the mercury will typically fall to around -2.9ºC in the early hours from January 11 to 17.

Ávila (second picture), in Castilla y León, averages -2.3ºC between January 9 and 15, whilst Soria, in the same region, drops to -1.8ºC between January 10 and 16.

Coldest fortnight and coldest month

The first half of January, anywhere other than the Canary Islands, is the coldest fortnight of the year in Spain, and once again, Castilla y León sees the lowest daytime maximum temperatures during this period – Palencia averages 6.1ºC from January 3 to 17; Burgos 6.4ºC from January 1 to 15, and León, 6.6ºC from January 2 to 16.

How many layers you need in a Spanish winter depends upon where you are in the country, and in which week (photo: Twitter)
Teruel is once again the coldest overnight and early morning city during the chilliest fortnight of the year – its typical temperature between January 7 and 21 is -2.6ºC, whilst that of Ávila is -1.9ºC over the same two weeks, and Soria falls to -1.7ºC between January 3 and 17.

The coldest month-long period in Spain, as opposed to calendar month, is between December 20 and January 20 – so, yes, those cosy log-fires with chestnuts roasting on them are just as necessary in Spain over the Christmas holidays as they are in northern Europe.

Over this month, Palencia is the coldest during the day, with highs averaging 6.3ºC between New Year's Eve and January 29; Burgos falls to 6.7ºC between December 27 and January 25, and León, to 6.8ºC from Christmas Eve to January 22.

Again, over this month-long period, the chilliest nights are in Teruel, where you can expect the mercury to drop to -2.4ºC between January 4 and February 2, followed by Ávila, averaging -1.7ºC between January 1 and 30, and Soria, where the typical low between those same dates is -1.4ºC.

Warmest parts of Spain during the coldest time of the year

Now you know where to avoid in winter if you feel the cold (although these habitually-cool areas tend to have homes with central heating as a standard fixture), where should you head for to warm up?

Alicante's iconic Santa Bárbara castle - a bucket-list day-trip with great views in the joint warmest city in Spain during the country's coldest days of the year, along with Almería
According to César Rodríguez Ballesteros' research, the highest daytime maximum temperatures in Spain – other than in the Canary Islands – during the second or third week in January, the joint coldest in the country, are found in Alicante (fourth picture) and Almería, both of which see an average high of 16.4ºC between January 11 and 17.

This apparently mild figure can go either way: If it's a clear day with the sun out, at 16.4ºC, you'll be feeling pretty warm, but if humidity is high, it's raining, overcast, or windy, the 'real feel' will be at least 5-10ºC lower, so take a coat anyway, even if you find yourself shedding it after brisk walking or carrying heavy shopping.

At night, or in the early hours, the warmest places in Spain (again, other than the Canary Islands) during the joint coldest week of the year are the north-African coastal city of Ceuta, just across the water from Gibraltar, where the mercury hits 9.9ºC between January 26 and February 1, the lowest of its lows in an average winter; Ceuta's 'neighbour' Melilla, which is closer to the Algerian border and where the average bottom temperature all winter is 9.5ºC, between January 11 and 17, or, sticking to the mainland, Cádiz (fifth picture), on the coast west of Gibraltar, where the average low in the coldest weeks is 9.4ºC, between January 12 and 18.

Warmest places in the coldest fortnight and month

Again, Almería and Alicante have the highest highs during the coldest fortnight of the year – 16.6ºC on average between January 3 and 17 – and during the coldest month, where a typical high is 16.8ºC between January 3 and February 1.

Not just beautiful, but also one of Spain's warmest cities during the coldest nights of the year (photo: Cádiz tourism board)
And, following the same pattern as before, during the coldest fortnight of the year, the highest minimum temperatures in the country are in Ceuta, at 10.6ºC from January 25 to February 8; Melilla, at 9.7ºC from January 4 to 18, and Cádiz, at 9.5ºC from January 14 to 28.

Over the month of December 20 to January 20, the highest early-hours temperatures are 10.9ºC in Ceuta between January 7 and February 5; Melilla's 9.9ºC from January 3 to February 1, and Cádiz's 9.6ºC between January 2 and 31.

What about the Canary Islands?

Being not far north of the tropics and firmly embedded in the sub-tropics – which start around the southern tip of mainland Spain – it's a completely new ball game in a Canarian winter.

For a start, the coldest week of the year is the last week in January; the coldest fortnight in the daytime is the second half of January, and the coldest fortnight overnight and in the early hours is between the second and third week in January in the province of Las Palmas (encompassing Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura, Lanzarote and La Graciosa), and the last week of January and first week of February in the province of Santa Cruz de Tenerife (comprising the islands of Tenerife, La Palma, La Gomera and El Hierro).

Late January and early February is when it gets coldest in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria - but with average lows of 16ºC and highs of 21ºC, you won't have to bother scraping ice off your car windscreen before setting off for work in the morning (photo: Flickr)
The coldest month of the year in the daytime is the whole of January, but the coldest month overnight and in the early hours differs between the two provinces – in Tenerife, La Palma, La Gomera and El Hierro, February is the chilliest month for nights, and in Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, Fuerteventura and La Graciosa, the chilliest month overnight is the last three weeks of January and the first week in February.

The average night temperature in the provincial capital of Santa Cruz de Tenerife – the city of the same name – at the coldest time of the year is a balmy 15ºC, and the average daytime figure at the coldest time of year is 21ºC.

In Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, the provincial capital city of Las Palmas (sixth picture), the figures are much the same – an average deep-winter low of 16ºC and high of 21ºC.

Winters in the Canary Islands are long, but are mild and comfortable, rarely dropping below 13ºC even at night; summers are hot, humid on the coast and dry inland and in the mountains, but marginally milder than on the Mediterranean or south coast of the mainland, tending to max out at around 30ºC in the shade at the warmest part of the day.