Saudi Arabia: Weather Overview

Sunday 30 April
08:58 GMT | 11:58 AST
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About Saudi Arabia

  • Capital: Riyadh
  • Area: 1,960,582km2
  • Population: 28,161,000
  • Currency: Rial (SAR)

About Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has an arid desert climate typical of its location in the Middle East. Due to the size of the country, topographical variation and its two coast lines, Saudi Arabia does see some regional variation in climate. However, most of the country is flat, sandy desert and every part of the country experiences high temperatures and minimal rainfall year round. Winters are unbearably hot and summers are even worse. The country takes up eighty percent of the Arabian Peninsula. It shares southern borders with Yemen, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, and northern borders with Jordan, Iraq and Kuwait. Its eastern border is mostly with the Persian Gulf though the small country of Qatar sits on a peninsula on this coast. Its western border is with the Red Sea.

 

Summer, from March till October, is no picnic. No matter how much of a sun-worshipper you are, the inferno that is the Saudi Arabian summer is not a pleasant holiday destination. What were you thinking? This is a desert. In Mecca the average high temperature increases from an already unpleasant 39°C to an upsetting peak of 41°C in June and July. The heat then relents slightly but only gets below 40°C in September, reaching 37°C in October. There are regional variations in temperature depending on proximity to the coast. Jeddah, on the Red Sea coast, does not see average highs above 38°C, but Riyadh, in the middle of the country, receives an average high of 43°C in July and August. Away from water, the desert can spike up into the low 50s. The Gulf coast is not as ‘cool’ as the Red Sea coast as its waters are shallow and enclosed by land, and so heat up easily in the summer. Night time temperatures drop around 10°C from day time highs in coastal areas and by about 15°C in inner regions. This is due to higher levels of insolation caused by more extreme aridity. These large reductions in temperature provide little relief as while comparatively cooler they are by no means anything but hot.

The interior of the country has very low humidity due to the complete absence of water, but in coastal areas the air becomes stiflingly heavy with moisture. Humidity is well-known for making you feel the heat so while it might be cooler by the coast it often feels much hotter. If you spend any time outdoors you will find yourself drenched in your own sweat in moments; heat stroke and dehydration are real concerns. Higher humidity around the coast is due to the evaporation of sea water, which also leads to hazy conditions if not all-out fog. Mist is common in the day, thickening to a dense fog at night, do not think for a second that this might be cooling; it prevents the evaporation of your sweat which is the whole point of sweating in the first place.

The north prevailing winds often provide slight but much-needed relief in coastal areas, but the season also receives the hot, moist, southwest wind, or the shammal: the strong north-westerly wind. The shammal is particularly strong at the beginning of the season and in eastern regions of Saudi Arabia. Any strong wind can blow clouds of dust into the air or whip up great sandstorms, but the shammal is the usual culprit. These storms cause surface erosion, general wind damage, reduce visibility and paralyse transport. They are also rather hard on the skin and in the eyes.

Rain? No.


Winter, from November till April, is cooler but still hot, especially towards the coast. The average high temperature in Mecca drops to 33°C in November, bottoms at 29°C in January and rises up to 26°C in April. Red Sea coastal areas see temperatures just a few degrees below those in Mecca, while interior regions are much cooler; Riydah’s average high drops rapidly to 28°C in December and 20°C in January before hurrying back up to 33°C in April; away from the sea, there is nothing to temper seasonal temperature changes. Lower humidity again results in larger drops in night time temperatures in interior regions. Riydah sees an average low of 8°C in January while it does not get below 20°C in Jeddah. Clearly, Saudi Arabia is more bearable in the winter, though the large deserts can get very cold. It can get down to 0°C. While this is rare the low humidity and high wind can make the felt temperature fall below freezing. Frost and snow occasionally occur.

It is a little cloudier in the winter and sunshine levels drop from summer’s average of ten hours per day to around eight. Despite the added clouds, rainfall only increases infinitesimally. The flat landscape does little to encourage rainfall and parts of the desert can go for years without rain. Rain is usually restricted to a couple of dramatic, localised downpours per winter. Annual average rainfall is 100 mm but this changes from year to year and region to region. When it does rain ravines and usually dry wadis flood and water slips through the sand dunes. While winter is comparatively rainier than summer, it would be a fallacy to consider it a wet season. The country is entirely arid, even more so in fact considering the drop in humidity, and strong winds still worry the desert into immense sandstorms.

 

Regional Variation

The mountains of Saudi Arabia, stretching along the west and northern borders, have much cooler climates, temperatures dropping with increases in altitude. The highest peaks are in the southwest and these are snow-capped for much of the year. They also receive slightly higher rainfall which has led to more fertile regions in the lowlands surrounding the mountains. These also act as barriers to wind. The western mountains are at a slight northwest/southeast angle which is why the Red Sea coast, to the east of the mountains is hotter than might be expected of a coastal region. To the south the mountains prevent the monsoons from travelling further into the country, depriving it of rain.

Asir and Najran, in the southwest, south of the mountains, are somewhat affected by the monsoons of the Indian Ocean and receive much higher rainfall than the rest of Saudi Arabia, with an annual average of 300 mm.

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