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Landscape and climate

Landscape and climate
Apokoronas. Luka Tica, Foundation for Gavalochori

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Crete is the largest island in Greece and is 160 kilometers (100 miles) south of the Greek mainland and 300 kilometers (200 miles) north of Africa. Visitors to Crete often don’t realize how close the island is to North Africa, but experiencing a sandstorm that originates in the Sahara makes that very clear! You also might not be aware that Crete is the southernmost point of Europe because of its Gavdos Island, which is administratively part of Chania and is located 48 kilometers (30 miles) off the south coast of Crete. 

View_to_mountains_from_Zourva
View to White Mountains, Crete. Alexey Komarov, CC BY-SA, Wikimedia Commons
Landscape and climate
Gramvousa Island, Crete. Nadiia, Pexels.com

Size and Shape

Crete is a long, thin island 260 kilometers (160 miles) from west to east and only 60 kilometers (37 miles) at its widest point from north to south. Its unique geographic position linking Europe, Asia, and Africa has helped shape its course both throughout antiquity and in contemporary times.

Topography_Variations_of_Western_Crete,_Greece,_as_seen_from_Space
Western Crete from Space. Hatwiki, CC BY 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Geology and Geography

Five hundred million years ago, the land that is now Crete lay at the bottom of the ancient Tethys Sea. It was formed by sediments that flowed into the sea and the shells of sea life that lived there, and as the material compacted, it developed into limestone rock. Metamorphic, volcanic, and additional sedimentary geologic activity created the other common types of stones found on Crete: greenschist, pale phyllite, and marlstone. About 200 million years ago, when Earth’s great single supercontinent, the Pangaea land mass, began to break into separate plates, the land that is now Crete was transformed by various geologic activities to create above-water land with high mountains. This land was further shaped by the wind and the waters of weather systems and a long series of large and small earthquakes.

Many people are surprised to learn that Crete has some serious mountains (some as high as 2456 meters (8050 feet)). In fact, a key geological feature of the island is the mountain ranges that divide the island into three parts—west, central, and east. The White Mountains (so called because the light color of the limestone rocks in the summer and fall give the illusion of snowy slopes) are in the west, Mount Psiloreitis and the Idean Mountains are in the center, and the Diktaion Mountains with Mount Dikti are in the east. The geological upheavals that formed the mountains also created impressive caves, ravines, and gorges (such as the famous Samaria Gorge) throughout the island. The western part of Crete is the greenest part of the island, while eastern Crete is more dry, barren, and rocky. 

The richness of Crete’s geology has been recognized by the creation of two parks on the island that feature the geology of Crete. Nearest to Gavalochori is Psiloreitis Geopark, which is in the mountains south of Rethymno. Much farther away, in the eastern part of the island, is the Sitia Geopark. The information center for this park is located in the village of Zakros.

Landscape and climate
Apokoronas. Luka Tica, Foundation for Gavalochori

Climate

The climate of Crete is a temperate Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and mild winters. You might be surprised to learn that Crete is not sunny and warm all year round. It has 300 days of sunshine every year, which means that other kinds of weather are occurring on those other 65 days. 

The winter from January to February has a number of rainy days with temperatures of 8-15ºC (46–59ºF), and, as a result, the island is green in the winter, and you will see some wildflowers emerging. Although it rains on average about 15 centimeters (6 inches) with about 15 wet days in each of these months, you might very well get lucky and enjoy sunny, shirt-sleeve weather during this time as well.

Spring is from March to May, and as the spring progresses, rainfall decreases, and the days turn warm. In March, the average daytime temperature is 20ºC (68ºF), climbing to 26ºC (79ºF) in May. During this period, Crete is at its most beautiful with all of its 1500 wildflowers seeming to bloom at once. 

Summer runs from June through September, and there is almost no rain during this period. The temperature averages between 28 and 35ºC (82 and 95ºF), but recently, due to climate change, Crete has been experiencing heat waves of several days where the temperatures have reached as high as 40ºC (103ºF). The sea temperature in the summer months is over 25ºC (77º F)—perfect for swimming. If you are here in the summer, you may experience the meltemi, a strong, cooling, northerly wind that occasionally sweeps across Crete. Between May and August, you also may encounter the sirocco wind, which blows up from Africa and brings red dust and sand, but it usually only lasts a day or two. 

Autumn is from October through December, and there are many warm days during this period when you can even go to the beach and enjoy a swim. There are more rainy days, however, as the season progresses, with an average rainfall of 10 centimeters (4 inches) and 9 wet days in December. The average temperature in October is 20ºC (68ºF), dropping to 14ºC (57ºF) in December.

Landscape and climate
Elafonisi Beach, Crete. Jarekgrafik, CC0, Wikimedia Commons
US_Navy equipment_Operator_Constructionman operates_a_front-end_loader_to_clear_snow souda bay chania crete
Snow, Souda. U.S. Navy, Paul Farley, Wikimedia Commons
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