Norway: Weather Overview
Norway, situated in the far reaches of northern Europe, is a large country with many varying climates. Itâs very narrow, especially in the north, but from top to bottom itâs almost 1000 miles. A large part of the country lies in the Arctic Circle. From hot summers to year-round snow and ice; from 24-hour darkness to the midnight sun, Norwayâs climate really is a mix of extremes.
The country sees four distinct seasons and differences in summer and winter temperatures and daylight hours are vast. There are many different microclimates found in this vast and wild country: from the wet and wild west coast to the snowy inland mountains to the Arctic north to the warm and dry summers of the south-east.
Norway's climate is surprisingly temperate for its northerly latitude. This is thanks to the warming effects of the Gulf Stream, a warm current that comes across the Atlantic from the Gulf of Mexico. The effects are felt all along Norwayâs vast 2500km long west coast. Even the coastal areas lying in the Arctic Circle are free of ice in winter. Inland, however, it gets much colder and there are places with year-round snow as well as many glaciers.
Norway is a very mountainous country which leads to great climatic variation. One of the most noticeable effects, apart from the difference in temperature that occurs at higher altitudes, is the effect on precipitation. The west coast bears the brunt of the Atlantic weather systems and some areas can receive up to 3000mm of rainfall annually. The mountains act as a block to this weather and areas east of the mountains can receive as little as 300mm a year. The mountains of Norway are one of the main reasons that its neighbour to the east, Sweden, is one of Europeâs driest countries.
Oslo and the South
Most of the four and a half million residents reside in the broad southern part of the country where the climate is much milder.
The south of the country is, as youâd expect, the warmest part of the country. The lowland area around Oslo is one of the warmest and driest places in the country. Oslo's average temperature ranges from 17Â°C in summer to -5Â°C in winter. Summer temperatures are the warmest in the country. As Oslo is sheltered from the Atlantic weather systems by the mountains to its east, rainfall is lower and the city is one of the sunniest in the country.
The south coast around Kristiansand is warm too and can enjoy excellent summers. Itâs a bit more exposed to stormy weather, however, and is wetter and windier than Oslo, although the relatively temperate seas (thanks to the Gulf Stream) mean winters here are milder.
The mountains in the south experience a different climate as well. Their elevation â" up to almost 2500m at the highest â" means temperatures are considerably colder. There is snow cover from November to May in the higher mountains. Summers, however, are warm and precipitation decreases the further east you go.
The West Coast
The stunning scenery of the west coast, with its plunging, winding fjords make it one of the most popular places to visit in Norway and really should be high up on anyone's must-see list.
The west coast has the mildest climate of the country, especially in the south, with an annual average temperature around 8Â°C. Variation in average temperature across the year is lowest here - varying just 10Â°C-15Â°C across the seasons. The warm seas from the Gulf Stream make for the mildest winter temperatures in the country. Snow does fall along the coast but rarely settles, while inland in the hills there is snow on the ground for six months of the year in the south and for much longer further north.
The west coast is the wettest part of the country â" it bears the brunt of the Atlantic storms. Some areas along the coast can receive more than 3000mm annually.
Two of Norwayâs largest cities are located on the west coast, towards the south. Stavanger and Bergen have grown hugely in both population and wealth thanks mainly the oil business. They are also important tourist centres due to the surrounding scenery, most notably the fjords. Here average temperatures range from around 15Â°C to 1Â°C and rainfall can occur year round, though itâs wettest in autumn and winter and driest in spring. Bergen has the mildest winters of any of the major cities in Norway.
As soon as you venture inland from Norwayâs west coast it becomes mountainous and the climate changes quickly, most noticeably with the colder winter temperatures.
Mountains run all along the length of Norway, covering the interior of the country. In fact, the only mountain-free places are the west coast south of the Arctic Circle, the far south and the lowlands around Oslo in the east.
In winter the mountains are home to snow, strong winds and severe frosts. In the summer spells of fine weather can see daytime temperatures rise above 30Â°C with long hours of sunshine. It gets especially hot in the valley areas sheltered by the tall mountains. Nesbyen in the central southern region holds the record for the highest temperature recorded in Norway of 35.6Â°C.
There are many different microclimates found across the mountains, with sheltered valleys that receive little rainfall and peaks exposed to vicious winds. You may find it raining in one place, but travel further into another valley and find the sun.
The mountains of Norway offer some great skiing, both Alpine downhill as well as traditional Nordic cross-country skiing. Some of the best resorts, such as Hemsedal, Geilo, Stryn and Voss, are situated Buskerud and Oppland towards the southern end of the mountain chain. This is where most of Norway's highest mountains are situated.
For a wilder skiing experience, head to the far north of the country around Tromso and beyond. Here the mountains plunge straight into the sea and snow can be found year round on the higher peaks.
The Far North
This is perhaps one of the most fascinating parts of the country: the land of the midnight sun and the northern lights. The average temperature has a range of 30Â°C, from 13Â°C to -17Â°C between summer and winter in Norwayâs most northerly province, Finnmark.
Finnmark has the coldest winters in the country with January averaging at -17Â°C. It has been known to get below -50Â°C. Karasjok in Finnmark holds the record for the lowest temperature recorded in Norway at -51.4Â°C.
Norway also owns the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, situated midway between Norway and the north pole. Itâs very northerly and very cold here, although the North Atlantic drift does moderate the cold temperatures and keeps the seas open and navigable for most of the year. Its effect means it is much milder on the west coast than on the east. Average temperatures for the area range between 5Â°C in summer and -12Â°C in winter.
The vast difference in sunlight hours has a huge impact on the weather in the far north. The further north you go, obviously, the more marked this phenomenon is. In midsummer, it doesnât get properly dark anywhere in Norway, but from a little south of the Arctic Circle, it is still possible to see the sun at midnight. In the Arctic Circle midnight sun is visible for just two nights each year. In Tromso in the far north, you will see it from 17th May to 25th June. Further north in Finnmark, it is visible even longer. Conversely, in Tromso, the sun does not appear over the horizon from November 26th to January 15th. There is twilight for a few hours around noon, but you never glimpse the sun.
In Svalbard, it is even more pronounced, with midnight sun lasting from April 20th to August 26th, while the polar night, with no sun, lasts between late October and mid-February. Civil polar night describes when there is so little light that itâs not possible to perform outdoor activities without the aid of artificial light. This lasts from the 12th November to end of January in Svalbard.