Turbulence at different scales, from generation to dissipation, influences planktonic communities. Many experimental studies have recently been done to determine the effects of small-scale turbulence on plankton, but it is difficult to state the relevance of the findings since there is little unbiased information on turbulence variability in the sea. In this study, we use wind velocity data series from several meteorological stations located along the Catalan coast to estimate the spatial and temporal variability of small-scale turbulence in the upper ocean. Using a peaks-over-threshold approach, we develop a statistical model to assess the frequency of wind events as a function of their persistence and intensity. Finally, the wind speed data series are converted into turbulent energy dissipation rate estimates at 1 m depth to determine the general distribution of turbulence on the Catalan coast. Geographical variability is larger than seasonal variability in frequency and persistence of wind events, owing to differences in local relief. These statistical models developed for wind events combined with empirical relationships between wind and turbulence, are tools for estimating the occurrence and persistence of turbulent events at a given location and season. They serve to put into context the past, present and future studies of the effects of turbulence on coastal planktonic organisms and processes.