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Introduction to the weather in Madeira

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Madeira's climate is one of the major reasons why the island is so popular among tourists. The combination of warm summers and mild winters has earned Madeiraa reputation as a haven where visitors can take a break from their own harsher seasons. The island is rarely, if ever, either too cold or too hot.

Lying off the north-west coast of Africa , Madeira benefits both from a sub-tropical latitude and the warm waters of the Gulf Stream. During the summer months (July to September), the air temperature averages between 21°C and 24°C. In the winter (December to March) temperatures typically hover between 15°C and 20°C. Rainfall is moderate, averaging about 500 mm per year. The driest months are between May and September. March is the wettest month and July the most humid. The sea temperature is usually one or two degrees higher than the air temperature. The best time for swimming is late summer when the sea typically averages 23°C; the coolest is March when the temperature drops to around 16°C.

Despite the Island's generally benign climate, the weather can be changeable from day to day, and sometimes even hour to hour. A day which begins with glorious sunshine can be grey and wet by lunchtime. By the same token, a rainy afternoon can just as easily become a warm, sunny evening. There is also often considerable regional variation in weather across the island. Although Madeira is only a little over 50 kms long and 18 kms wide, it rises from sea level to a height of about 1800 metres at the highest point. As a consequence, the north coast, for example, can experience entirely different weather to the south on the same day. Similarly, while the sun may be shining on the coastal villages, up in the mountainous interior of the island the weather can be much colder and wetter.

This variation has caused people to use the term ‘micro-climates' to describe the weather across Madeira. After spending only a week on the island you will know why. One early twentieth century observer suggested that during the course of an hour's drive it is possible to pass from a sub-tropical climate to the climate of the French Riviera, then to Southern England, then Scotland, and finally the Alps. During the winter months it is sometimes even possible to have a snowball fight on the mountain peaks, drive thirty minutes down to the coast and go for a refreshing dip in the sea. 

This series of ‘micro-climates' has interesting implications for gardeners and farmers. For example, plants or crops which grow quite happily at sea-level cannot survive at 300 metres altitude - often barely a mile away. This phenomenon has blessed Madeira with a kaleidoscopic array of gardens – the contents of which vary according to their height above sea leve l.










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