The climate and weather of Syria are very similar to those in the three other countries of the eastern Mediterranean - frequently known as the Levant States: Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan.
The general features of the climate of all four countries and the factors governing the climate are described here; briefer descriptions of the other three countries are given under the country headings.
These countries all have a climate and sequence of weather throughout the year that is transitional between the Mediterranean and the Arabian Desert.
The summers, lasting from April or early May until September or early October, are sunny, hot, and dry with very little change of weather from day to day.
During the rest of the year there is greater variability from day to day as Mediterranean depressions bring cloudy, rainy weather and also occasional cold spells in the midwinter period, during which frost and snow may occur even at low levels.
These cold spells are rare and less severe along the Mediterranean coast. Inland, and in the mountains, the cold spells may be severe with frequent snow.
The probability of disturbed weather with cloud and rain is greatest in the months December to February, which is the main rainy season. Even during the midwinter period, however, the weather is often sunny and dry for long periods.
There is some variation from year to year in the start and end of the hot, dry, settled weather of summer so that some heavy downpours of rain may occur at the beginning and end of summer.
These brief wet spells are the 'former' and 'latter' rains referred to in the Bible (Deut. 11:14). Apart from the gradual increase of temperature from March to May and the similar decrease from September to November there is no marked spring and autumn as occurs in countries farther north.
The main seasonal contrast is the beginning and end of the settled weather of summer.
One of the most notable, and certainly the most unpleasant or even dangerous, features of the weather of these countries are brief spells of hot winds blowing from the east and southeast.
These winds 'import' very hot and dusty air from the Arabian Peninsula and, on occasion, temperatures may rise as high as 43-49°C/110°-120°F.
Such spells of weather are named khamsin in Arabic or sirocco in Italian. They are most frequent at the beginning and end of the summer season and are rare in midsummer. In extreme cases there is a danger of heat stress or even heatstroke unless elementary precautions are taken.
Syria is the largest of the Levant countries and, because of its size and east-to-west extent, shows the greatest contrast between the milder, wetter Mediterranean conditions on the coast and the desert conditions of the interior.
About 60% of Syria lying east of Aleppo and Damascus has a desert or semi-desert climate with an annual rainfall below 200m m/8 in. This is the hottest region in summer and it is often quite cold in winter with occasional snow and frequent frost (see the table for Dayr az Zawr).
Rainfall, although infrequent, may be quite heavy and very local causing some spectacular desert floods.
To the north and west of this desert region there is a band of steppe country where some non-irrigated cultivation can be carried out. This belt, often called the Fertile Crescent, includes the large cities of Aleppo and Damascus.
Here annual rainfall is between 200 mm/8 in and 500 mm/20 in. Temperatures throughout the year are very similar to those found in the Syrian Desert.
Between this inland steppe region and the Mediterranean there are a series of mountain ranges and hills where rainfall is much greater and there is also a good deal of snow.
Except for Mount Hermon in the southwest, which has a climate similar to that of the Lebanon Mountains, these western hills and mountains are not quite as wet or snowy as in Lebanon.
There are a number of small mountain resorts which are popular as a relief from the summer heat of the interior and the larger cities.
Along the Mediterranean coast there is a narrow plain where conditions are very similar to those found along the coast of Lebanon (see the table for Beirut). Summers are warm and humid and winters are very mild with spells of cloud and heavy rain, alternating with fine, sunny weather.
Syria has a very sunny climate with an average of six to seven hours of sunshine a day in winter and as much as twelve to thirteen in summer.
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