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Winds of the Mediterranean Levante

BY Wijke Ruiter

A Spanish holiday is not complete without a visit to the British mini state that is Gibraltar. For this place is not just a rock; but the gate-keeper to one of the worlds most puzzling seas; hiding secrets, myths, stories, centuries of the worlds greatest history. The Strait of Gibraltar has been a busy sea lane since the ancient Phoenicians explored the world beyond this Mediterranean Gate. 

Tourist guides say about the climate: Gibraltar boasts a Typical Mediterranean Sub-tropical climate.  Warm weather throughout the year.  Mild winters with no snow, but summers can get hot and humid (between May to September).

This maybe true,
but they rarley mention that this lovely, endless chanted, deep azure-blue sea, has its own terror in local winds. The ancient Phoenicians merchants must have been struggling and fighting for their lives with the unpredictable and unreliable wind of this Gate: the Levante. (Levanter in English).
a warm East to Northeast wind funneled through the Strait of Gibraltar, most frequent from July to October and in March, however it can occur at any time of the year. Bringing warm and humid conditions to Gibraltar.
Its usually not more than a moderate breeze; about 4 beaufort in the summer period and
it's liable to blow in fifteen days-spells.  In winter, although less frequent, it sometimes blows a gale-force; 8 to 9 beaufort; with heavy hurricane gusts. The winter- levante often follow the end of gale-force Mistral events. 

This specific Gibraltar-wind can occur when there is:

  • high pressure over central Europe and relatively low pressure over the southwest Mediterranean, or 

  •  high pressure cell over the Balearic Islands (levante will be localized around the Strait) or

  • an approaching cold front from the west toward the Strait of Gibraltar. 

What makes the Levanter so special for Gibraltar?

Besides its occasionally reinforced by the presence of an active depression to the South, by which it suddenly may intensify bringing heavy thundery rain; the effects of the wind are especially marked at Gibraltar. 

The most striking is the Levanter cloud.
In winds lighter than force 5, a banner cloud, hanging around the top of  the Gibraltar rock and the city area. Its stretches out from the summit  for a mile or more to the west. The warm, humid air has to rise against the rock; and cools down and condenses.
When the wind exceeds to 6 beaufort, its strong enough to blow over the top and maintain its warmth, the air vapour will not condense and the cloud lifts and disappears.

But at this force violent sea-currents and cross eddies are formed at the west side of the "rock", very troublesome a
nd dangerous for sailors. The wind itself blowing strongly from time to time in opposite directions; whirling around, making sailors live more difficult.
The barometer and the thermometer are useful instruments to forecast a levanter. A coming 
Levanter is indicated by light barometer failing and a marked rise of thermometer. When blowing the barometer rises again. When this increase is strong, its a sign the Levanter will disappear  next day, even if it's blowing with gusts of hurricane force.

The Sussex. A long lost treasure.

Near the Gibraltar rock rests on her seabed the richest shipwreck in history.
Its His Majesty's Ship Sussex, containing millions of pounds in cold coins;  lost about 300 years ago.
As usual the British Admiralty investigated this accident. The records say: " They were caught is a levanter"  trying to describe the freak winds that threatened to hurl the ship against the rocky Spanish shore. "They attempted to tack into the wind, and run back around Gibraltar. Within seconds, tens of thousands of gallons of water rushed into the vessel's open gun ports". The end came swiftly, while the admiral slept. He was found clad only in his nightshirt.