The weather in Cyprus tends to go through wet and dry phases with winter rains either significantly below or significantly above the mean (summer rains normally being negligible). The island experienced a dry phase between 2004/2005 and 2010/2011; although total rainfall was around the normal in 2006/2007, 2008/2009 and 2009/2010, there was an overall rainfall deficit of 13% during this period. By 2010, the accumulated drought assisted in the development of extremely hot weather, the temperature at Athalassa, just south of the capital Nicosia, reaching its highest on record (45.6°C) on 1 August; the mean temperature for 2010 at Akrotiri on the south coast (20.9°C) was 1 degC above the long-term annual mean, the highest in a record going back to 1956. The warm weather continued through 2011. However, the winter of 2011/2012 and the last three months of 2012 were wet.
The reason for these phases is linked to the development of large-scale weather systems and their persistence. Low pressure, upper troughs and relatively cold air, flowing from the west across the warm Mediterranean Sea, brings rain to the island in winter. This is often associated with thunderstorms, and sometimes severe weather. The eastern Mediterranean was anomalously warm through the autumn and winter of 2011/2012 and the winter half-year brought frequent outbreaks of thundery rain to Cyprus. The precipitation total for the island in hydrological year 2011–2012 (October to September) was 654.5mm, 130% of the 1961–1990 normal. Similarly wet weather was experienced between October and December 2012, bringing an island-wide rainfall anomaly of about + 25% by the end of January 2013 (although January itself was a dry month).
At the beginning of 2004, water had to be released from the largest dam on the island, Kouris reservoir, which had been brought into use in 1988. However, water levels fell from 2005 and by 2010 there was a serious water shortage, despite desalination plants supplying additional water for the important tourist industry. Figure 1 shows the reservoir more than 10m below its maximum level in October 2009 (see also photographs in Weather 63: 11 (p. 322) and 66: 7 (front cover)). However, the heavy rains of winter 2011/2012 refilled it and water was again released, allowing the lower Kouris river to flow out to sea, as well as the replenishment of groundwater in the Akrotiri syncline to the south. Indeed, the wet weather brought flash flooding to areas more used to drought in recent years.
Between December and March, snow is relatively common at higher levels on the Troodos Mountains of the centre-west of the island and occasionally lies on Mount Olympus, the highest point on the island (1952m), to allow a few weeks of skiing. However, temperatures below 5°C are only an occasional visitor below about 500m, usually brought by gentle northerly airflows with clear skies, associated with anticyclonic conditions. The development of high-amplitude Rossby waves in January 2013 brought unstable and unusually cold air to lower levels. Early on the 9th, as temperatures fell to around 1°C, snow was observed in Paphos on the southwest coast and settled for a few hours below 400m in Letymvou (Figure 2). At Tsada (near 600m) there was lying snow for much of the day and several roads were closed for a time, while snowploughs and gritters were brought in from Troodos, where 20–40cm of snow had fallen. Ten schools in upland areas remained closed after the Christmas holidays. For the first time on record, snow is reported to have fallen for a few minutes around midday in Ayia Napa, on the southeast coast.
We thank the Cyprus Meteorological Service and Met Office, RAF Akrotiri, for making the above data available.