These great air currents circulate the earth's equator and form the prevailing winds of the tropics. The trade winds are known for the consistency of their speed and direction; ships used them to swiftly sail the seas, trading goods along the way. Their name comes from the old English usage of the word 'trade' which meant 'path 'or 'track'. To say 'the wind blows trade' meant to stay on track, which is what these reliable, beneficial winds have helped sailors to do since the dawn of navigation.
This cold, dry wind accumulates over the Alps then blows hard through the mountains of the Rhone Valley all the way to the coasts of Southern France . The mistral is known for the brilliant sunshine it brings to the Riviera , along with a bracing crystalline cool. The Romans called this wind 'magistralis' or 'masterful' in respect of the turbulence it may create at sea. Likewise people of the Rhone valley consider the mistral a part of their lives, and always take the wind's direction into account when planting trees and building houses.
The Zephyr wafts across the Mediterranean around the time of the summer solstice. Its name comes from the ancient Greek word meaning 'light' and 'beneficial'. Zephyrus was the Greek god of the west wind and his memory lives on in this gentle, warm breeze. On the Mediterranean coast near Alexandria , a promontory was once called Zephyrium, because it caught the Zephyr winds. The ancients built a temple to Aphrodite in this special location, so mariners could pay tribute to the love goddess who rose from the wind-stirred foams of the sea.
The Arabic word for 'season' ( mausem ) gives these fast, strong, rain-bearing winds their name. The monsoon refers to the seasonal reversal of the wind's direction along the coasts of the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea . For half the year it blows from the southeast before switching to move northeast. Arabian sailors knew the monsoon winds well, as they used them to sail to East Africa and the Far East trading spices, dates, rice and silk, while spreading their culture and religion to dozens of ports of call.
Wind and kite surfers aren't the only ones who love the Fremantle Doctor. This cooling sea breeze blows over south-western Australian and is one of the most consistent winds in the world. Each day during the parched summer months between noon until 3pm , the Fremantle brings relief to coastal inhabitants, earning its nickname of 'doctor'. The wind can penetrate as much as a hundred kilometers inland, lowering temperatures several degrees. It is also known as the 'Fremantle Docker' since docked ships once waited for it to rise in order to set sail.
The Levante takes its name from the Spanish word for 'east' which is where the wind was thought to originate. It actually begins in the Central Mediterranean and blows westwards reaching its greatest strength as it passes through the Straits of Gibraltar. The Levante is a warm, moist wind of varying intensity that blows most frequently between February- May, and October- December. The unpredictable Levante can last for days and end abruptly, meanwhile creating magnificent cumulus cloud formations above the Rock of Gibraltar.