Levante / Levanter

Location: Spanish east coast, Gibraltar to the Gulf of Cadiz

The Levante is a warm, east to northeast wind that flows from the Alboran Channel and is funneled through the Strait of Gibraltar. Mild and humid at the south-east coast of Spain and the Balearic Islands, gale-force Levante extends to the eastern Gulf of Cadiz.

Levanter is the English name for this wind - funnelled to become a pure easterly - in the Strait of Gibraltar and Alboran Channel. The name derives from the word levant which is really the point where the sun rises - hence the coasts of the Mediterranean east of Italy.

Synoptically, Levante can occur in three ways:

(a) high pressure over western Europe and low pressure to the southwest of Gibraltar over the Atlantic or to the south over Morocco, (b) high pressure cell over the Balearic Islands (Levante will be localized around the Strait), and (c) an approaching cold front from the west toward the Strait of Gibraltar. As it usually occurs within stable air under an inversion the Levanter is often, but not always, accompanied by local low clouds, fog, haze and sometimes light rains.

The Levante may occur at any time of the year, but is most frequent from July to October and in March. Alternating with its westerly counterpart the Poniente it affects the Gibraltar Straits on and off throughout the year. They winds reach gale force in spring (February to May) and autumn (October to December). In the summer (June to September) its usually not more than a moderate breeze and it's liable to blow in fifteen days-spells.

During the winter months, gale-force Levante often follow the end of gale-force Mistral events. Oftentimes, satellite imagery can depict the onset of gale-force Levante when low stratus clouds dam up along the eastern side of the Strait of Gibraltar. During the summer, gale-force Levante is generally confined to the Strait of Gibraltar.

Occasionally the Levanter is reinforced by the presence of an active depression, to the south by which it suddenly may intensify bringing heavy thundery rain. A good example for such an event took place�between November 20th to 24th, 2001. The Levanter was blowing at Beaufort 7 with sustained wind speeds 34mph (55kph). Peak gusts reached Bft 9 (48mph - 77kph).

The Levante is usuallly accompanied by a characteristic banner cloud which form on top of the rock and streams away to leeward. The Levanter cloud might stretch for a mile or so to the west. However, the Levanter cloud will only form under conditions with wind speeds remaining below Bft 5. In such conditions the Rock creates eddies and turbulences, which takes the form of sudden violent squalls and gusts, frequently of considerably greater force than the prevailing winds and from almost any direction. However, as the winds are exceeding Bft 6, the Levanter cloud detaches from the Rock and eventually dissolves. During Levante conditions, sustained wind speed at Gibraltar are easily twice as high as the approximate wind speed in the Strait of Gibraltar.

The onset of the Levanter has a couple of significant characteristics:

 -  Mistral conditions in the Gulf of Lion often preceede Levante conditions at Gibraltar.
 - A coming Levanter is indicated by a slightly decreasing pressure and a marked temperature rise.
 - A late morning to afternoon offshore wind vice normal onshore sea breezes often preceeds a Levanter by one day.

During full Levanter conditions the pressure will slightly rise again. A steep pressure increase is a sign for the break down of the Levanter.

The Strait of Gibraltar has been a busy sea lane since the ancient Phoenicians explored the world beyond this Mediterranean Gate. However, the ancient Phoenicians merchants must have been struggling and fighting for their lives with the Levanter. When they blow hard against the prevailing easterly setting current through the Straits of Gibraltar they create a short, high and sharp sea making entry into Gibraltar from the Atlantic difficult, even for modern sailing vessels.