Like all the islands of the Azores, the geography of Faial is dominated by the volcanic origin of the island and the subtropical climate of the Mid-Atlantic. Faial has a surface of 170 square kilometres and is about 20 kilometres long and 14 kilometres wide. The island is dominated by the volcano of Cabeço Gordo which is with 1043 meters the highest point of the island. At first sight the Cabeço Gordo is not as impressive as the neighboring Pico, but once you are at its top, the sight of the Caldeira, which is a 2000 meter wide and 400 meter deep crater is one of the highlights of the Azores. During the summer hydrangeas line up to the top and you can even spot the thin blue lines of their flowers from the coast. Faial is part of the central group of islands including also Terceira, Graciosa, São Jorge and Pico. The coastline of Faial can be split roughly into two parts, on the east part of the side it is easily accessible and has some nice beaches, whereas the north, west and part of the southern coast are dominated by high cliffs. The climate of Faial is driven by the surrounding Atlantic Ocean. Like on any of the Azorean islands, the climate is mild with warm winters and not excessively hot summers. That sounds very appealing at first, but means also that you can have all four seasons on one day, a bit of rain, some wind, fog and then hot and humid with blue skies and bright sunlight mirroring in the ocean.
Volcanism shapes the island
Faial is approximately 1 million years old and today’s shape is the result of several volcanic events. The origins of the island can be found on the east of the island in the parishes of Riberinha and Pedro Miguel. The Pedro Miguel Grabe is the reminder of the original volcano that formed the island. Looking at the geography of Faial from a birds eye perspective, you can easily identify to other major volcanic structures that shaped the island. The bay of Horta is dominated by the volcano of Monte da Guia, which was the result of a sub aquatic explosion. The Caldeira at the top of the island is the central volcano, even though it is all green and peaceful, there was a minor activity in 1958 during the eruption of the volcano of Capelinhos whereas the lake that used to be in the Caldeira disappeared. At the westernmost tip of Faial, the volcanic complex of Capelo is the site of the most recent subterranean eruption of the Azores which happened in 1957 and 1958 when a surface of 2,4 square kilometres of land grew out of the sea. The eruption had a devastating impact on the life on Faial as the villages of Capelo and Norte Pequeno where largely destroyed and subsequently a mass emigration mainly to the United States and Canada made the population of Faial shrink from 24 thousand to 20 thousand as a direct result of the event. Today vegetation is slowly gaining back ground, and probably in some decades the old lighthouse half way covered with volcanic ashes will be surrounded by a small forrest. Volcanic eruptions are luckily a rare event, earthquakes not. Faial has experienced several severe earthquakes in its recent history, the last big event in 1998 with a magnitude of 6,2 caused big destruction and nine people lost their live. Smaller earthquakes are pretty frequent and some of them can be felt.
The climate at the center of the Azores high
The climate of Faial is mild and subtropical, to put it less scientific, it is somewhat like Scotland or Ireland, but 10 degrees warmer. During the winter, temperatures can get as low as 8 degrees on one or the other chilly morning and every couple of years there are some snowflakes observed at the top of Cabeço Gordo. But normally even in the wintertime, temperatures are around 14 degrees, and on a sunny day temperatures can rise to 20 degrees. As winters are mild, so are summers, even in August, the hottest month, temperatures rarely reach the maximum of 30 degrees. If you think that this is not really hot, then you did not take into consideration the levels of humidity. All around the year, relative humidity is around 80%, making it fell much hotter than the readings of the thermometer would suggest. All year round, you can expect rainfall, sometimes just a couple of minutes, during the late autumn and in spring you might catch a week of rain, though. Another aspect of the Azorean climates are the different microclimates, Faial is a small island, but there are big differences depending on the location. From subtropical Feteira or Varadouro it is only a couple of kilometres to the chillier Flamengos or Capelo.