Sri Lanka is an island nation in the Indian
Ocean about 30kms off the coast of India and
home to around 20 million people. The pear-shaped island is about 65,000km² in
size and is mountainous in the southern central region, with the highest peaks
climbing to 2500m above sea level. The climate is influenced by the warm
surrounding Indian Ocean as well as the
proximity the vast Indian subcontinent and all the weather systems it causes.
average temperatures across Sri
Lanka range from around 15ºC in the
mountains to about 30 ºC on the northeast coast. In the coastal areas the
temperatures vary very little across the year - average temperatures in
Colombo are between 27 ºC and 29 ºC all year with highs peaking at 30 ºC
and lows dropping to 22 ºC. Inland the temperatures vary more – Kandy’s temperatures are
between 17 ºC and 31ºC. As you gain altitude the temperatures are generally
cool down – Nuwara
Eliya temperatures differ between 14 ºC and 21 ºC. In the mountains the
start of the year has the warmest temperatures. The hottest place on the island
is the north
on the northeast coast has temperatures that fluctuate between 33 ºC and 24 ºC.
This area has seen the warmest temperatures recorded on the island at almost 40
Rainfall is high across the island but varies significantly:
Annual rainfall varies from around its lowest of 1250mm in the northwest and
southeast to over 5000mm in the southwest highlands. The southwest of the
island is generally the wettest year round. Rainfall can occur
year round, though there are two
monsoon periods in which heavy rains hit the island – the first between
May and August and the second between October and January.
monsoons are a major part of Sri
Lanka’s climate and have a huge impact on the
important farming and agriculture of the country. The heaviness of the monsoons
can contrast a lot year to year. If the monsoons fail, it can bring drought to the island, as happened in
2004; if they are particularly heavy then severe flooding is a harsh danger. Cyclones are another weather-related
disaster that can befall Sri
Lanka. Forming in the Bay
of Bengal, these intense tropical storms can bring ferocious winds
and lashing rain to the island threatening lives and livelihoods. December and
January are the most likely months for cyclone activity. Thankfully though for Sri Lanka it is
situated far enough south so that it misses the majority of cyclones but
occasionally the island can be hit.
monsoons are caused by the temperature difference between the land and the
ocean and in turn seasonal reversals of wind direction. There are two monsoon
seasons in Sri Lanka
– one bringing rain from the northeast and the other from the southwest. Due to
the island’s mountains in the central southern region the two monsoons affect
various parts of the island very differently.
Northeast monsoon (October to February)
The northeast monsoon brings moisture laden air from the Bay of
Bengal to Sri Lanka.
It’s the northeast slopes of the central highlands that receive the most
rainfall during these months – often above 1000mm. Kandy, which lies
just to the north of the highest mountains receives almost double the rainfall
during the northeast monsoon than it does during the southwest one from which
the mountains protect it. The city is the region that receives the most of the
northeast monsoon’s precipitation.
the capital, is situated on the west coast and receives similar amounts of
rainfall during both monsoons, peaking at around 400mm during the months of May
and November. The northeast monsoon, however, does bring the coolest
temperatures of the year, albeit only slightly.
The areas in the southwest, such as Galle, are much less
affected by the northeast monsoon as they are protected by the mountains.
The north and east of the country in the lowlands receive
almost all their annual rainfall during the northeast monsoon – generally
between 1200 and 1800mm.
2004, Sri Lanka
was devastated by the Boxing Day tsunami which resulted in over 35,000
people killed across the country. The tsunami hit eleven countries including Indonesia,
and killing more than 225,000 people. Sri Lanka was the second worst hit,
and still bears scars from that fateful day.
Southwest Monsoon (May to August)
The southwest monsoon brings rains from the Indian
Ocean. Heaviest hit during this monsoon season is the southwest
region including Galle.
The southern and western slopes of the mountains are the wettest place on the
island during this time. The town of Ratnapura
lies in this area and the highest hills around here can receive up to 4000mm of
rain during the southwest monsoon.
The wettest places during the north-east monsoon – the regions
northeast of the mountains – are now the driest during the southwest monsoon.
There are two inter-monsoon seasons in Sri Lanka –
from February to May and from August to October. In Colombo, February is the driest month on
average. When the monsoons arrive and leave is never exact and can differ year to
year and across the island. As you’d imagine the far northeast is the first to
receive the northeast monsoon, and the southwest first to receive the southwest
Visiting Sri Lanka
You can visit Sri Lanka at
any time of year if you don’t mind a bit of rain. Even in the monsoon
periods there is still a lot of sunshine as showers are short and sharp and the
weather clears quickly. You could get a downpour for three days but then you
could get three days of sunshine. There is such a rich culture on this vibrant
island that you can find something to do whatever the weather.
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