Sicilian Weather – the Dream and the Reality

We all know weather forecasts are more often wrong than right, and this applies to Sicily as much as anywhere else.

When you look at weather charts for Sicily online, remember they are only based on averages – and Sicily is never average! You really need to find out the microclimate at the particular destination you have chosen for your holidays. At the coast, the climate can change considerably within a distance of just 10 metres!

One thing you honestly can rely upon with the Sicilian weather, though, is that the sun shines more than just about anywhere else in Europe.

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Summer never goes on strike in Sicily!

Summer weather in Sicily

We all remember years in England and Northern Europe when it felt as if we just didn't have a summer at all. We felt so cold that we started to ask ourselves if global warming was just a fairytale.

This never happenes with Sicilian weather. Some years are better than others, but you always get decent summer weather guaranteed.

Without it, an entire industry would be impossible: the extraction of sea salt. Salt farming relies on uninterrupted sunshine, to evaporate sea water which has been channelled into shallow pools. Eventually all that remains are the salt crystals on the ground after the water has evaporated. Summer rain would make this business impossible!

Springtime weather in winter

Winter holidays in Sicily

The picture on the right was taken in January 2012.

Sicily is lush and green in winter, especially along the coastline. This gives you 1,000 km of spring weather and green landscape in winter. What more could you want during your winter holidays?

But let's be honest: if the rain never fell, there would be no greenery, and no waterfalls. Waterfalls are a stunning spectacle that you can only see in Sicily during the winter. It's the only time of year when there is enough rain to fill the streams and rivers. They usually meander between rocks, so the white water churns and splashes down at high speed.

The waterfalls in the Parco Fluviale dell'Alcantara Nature Reserve are particularly well-known. You can find waterfalls inland, too. There is a beautiful waterfall called "The Dragon's Throat" (Gola del Drago) near Corleone and another waterfall right on the outskirts of the town.

Weather as mad as a March hare!

Weather as mad as a March hare

In England we tend to expect April showers, but in Sicily, they come in March. March is the transitional month between winter and spring, when anything goes. This is why Sicilians often say the weather in March is a bit mad.

For us northern Europeans, the winter weather in Sicily feels like Spring. This normally continues in March, so if you visit Sicily in this month you will enjoy mild temperatures, but you would be unwise to pack light, summer clothes.

A Beautiful Microclimate

Breakfast on the roof terrace, under the bright blue sky

On the first day of our Sicilian holidays in May, we had breakfast on the roof terrace, under the bright blue sky, looking out over the sea – in thick sweaters! This was strange, as the weather forecast had predicted temperatures of 25 degrees centigrade. Had we misunderstood? Oh well, at least there was no rain!

Then we went out to explore the neighbourhood, still wearing our thick sweaters. Suddenly we felt far too hot, and rushed to pull our sweaters off before we broke out in heavy perspiration. Now the temperature really was at least 25 degrees!

The explanation for this strange experience was the local microclimate. On our breakfast terrace facing the sea, the Sicilian sun warms the ground quickly - but not the water! The warm air rises and the cold air from the water surface is drawn in to replace it.

Coastal residents in Sicily know this effect very well. They call it "onshore wind".

In the summer the onshore wind has a perfect cooling effect. No wonder the Sicilians want to build their summer homes as close as possible to the sea.

The Mesoclimate - The local Sicilian weather

Catania Airport in January

When we first visited Catania Airport we looked out of the plane window and admired the radiant blue sky. This was just the weather we had hoped for on our winter holiday in Sicily. But when we got off the plane it was horribly chilly! We dragged our suitcases towards the bus stop with fingers stiff from the cold.

After a two-hour drive we reached Palermo bus terminal. The brilliant blue sky was the same, but now it was a comfortable 15° C. This was more like it! We sat in the sun outside a bar and concluded it had just been a strange day in Sicily.

But then we looked up the long-term average temperatures in Palermo and Catania. In Catania the average lowest temperature in January is 5° C whereas in Palermo it's 10° C. The average maximum temperature is identical in both cities, at 15° C.

The two reasons for this difference in weather can be seen easily with the help of a map:

  • Catania has no barrier against cold east winds, while Palermo is surrounded by a shield of mountains.
  • Catania lies at the foot of the 3,300m snow-capped Mount Etna. The cool air from the snow sinks downwards, right into town!

These subtle local weather differences (called the "mesoclimate") play no role in the Sicilian summer. Yet if you choose to spend your winter holidays in Sicily, a few degrees can make a big difference.

What do you need to pack?

Der Koffer für den Sicily-Urlaub

So how should we pack for a holiday in Sicily? The anecdotes above have shown that the Sicilian weather can change considerably in the space of 10 metres. In midsummer the heat of the sun dominates the Sicilian weather totally. For the rest of the year you should come prepared for anything - even swimming weather at Christmas!

Sicilians say you should spend most of the year "dressed like an onion". What they mean is dress in layers, so you can easily take things off or put more clothes on, as you move about from one microclimate to another.

To put it simply, always pack both bathing suits and thick sweaters!

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