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F - 202 : Snowiest Town in the Mediterranean? Istanbul!

Istanbul, Tuesday 25 January 2022

Late last night, my smart phone beeped. A text message from Turkish Airline read: "Your flight has been cancelled. Istanbul Airport is closed due to heavy snow. Please contact our reservation centre." Did not really expect that. But Istanbul gets about 60 cm of snow each year and is the snowiest big town in the Mediterranean.

This morning when Traffic was running again - but Weather Forecast announced more snow

Most people though - including myself in December 1996 - associate Istanbul with much warmer, sunnier and dryer winter weather. A town on the same latitude as Naples must have the same climate - so I thought when travelling just in a suite, no coat and shoes with leather soles. I got very cold, very wet feet and felt miserable!

My misguided idea of winter in Istanbul in 1996 - had to buy a coat and boots on the first day

Istanbul lies not only at the cross road between Europe and Asia and the Muslim and Christian world, it is also sits right on the border line of the Mediterranean and the European climate zones. Summers are warm and dry (Mediterranean weather), winters cold - not freezing - and wet (Western European Weather).

Annual Fluctuation of Temperature and Precipitations

The town's weather is heavily influenced by the Sea of Marmara to its south and the Black Sea to its north. The average water temperature of the Black Sea is cold and fluctuates between 9 C in winter and 23 C in summer time. In the Eastern Mediterranean the averages are between 18 C and 29 C. The Black and Marmara Seas full of cold water from Ukrainian and Russian rivers, keep the heat of the Mediterranean summer in check. In winter times, they mitigate the freezing air blowing unimpeded from Siberia. Due to their moderate temperature, water humidity remains elevated during winter times. Thus when a cold blizzard from the north hits the saturated air over Istanbul, snow starts to fall.

Average Sea Temperature in the Mediterranean. Red = 21C, Orange = 17C, Yellow = 13C. It is noteworthy that the Marmara Sea is not warmer than the Atlantic!

These effects are not only felt in Istanbul but the entire Aegean. To a bigger extent in the Northern Aegean. Only during summer times is the water warm enough for swimming. Add the effects of the Etesian wind system, which I call Meltemi in my other blogs. The Etesian blows regularly over the Aegean - from mid summer to early autumn. It is caused by the continental depression over Southwest Asia where the hot air rises high up. The Etesian wind or Meltemi is violent, dry and relatively cold. During our trip this summer we permanently need to keep an eye on it. Being caught n the open sea by the Meltemi may be good for sporty sailing but not so good for everybody's stomach.

The permanent wind system surrounding the Mediterranean

Even Athens is occasionally hit by the same weather pattern as Istanbul - as yesterday!

With respect to our sailing this summer there will be no swimming until we reach the latitude of Lesbos Island. Also, our course will mostly follow the shore line to keep us out of the Meltemi's reach. The water is also warmer in the bays! Where we have to cross longer stretches of open sea - as planned from Icaria to Mykonos - we will sail during the night or early in the morning when the Meltemi is weak.

Today, on the way from the Golden Horn to Hagia Sophia

For the children of Istanbul or Athens, none of this makes any difference. The schools close for a day or two and everybody enjoys the snow - the most fun photo I got from Istanbul this morning was a big snow ball fight last night between students - who does not love snow balls?

On Monday night, 24 January 2022

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