Russia: Weather Overview
Russia, unsurprisingly, has a very varied climate. Its northerly location means great seasonal variation; its vast size means it spans many climatic zones with coasts on different seas and interior regions further from the sea than any other place on earth; its diverse topography causes much regional variation atypical to latitude. However, climatic zones generally follow conventional latitudinal distinction. For the most part, Russia has a continental climate characterised by large seasonal variations in temperature. It receives hot but brief summers and long, bitterly cold winters with plenty of snow and ice. However, Russia also has mountains and areas of desert, taiga, tundra, steppe and plateau, all with their own climate.
Northern Russia, or Siberia, is entirely within the Arctic Circle. It has an immensely long coastline with the Arctic Ocean. Without any mountains or particularly high land on the northern border, Arctic winds blow southwards unhindered and affect the whole of Russia. The northern fringe of Siberia, along the Arctic coast, is a strip of tundra: permanently frozen, almost entirely plant-less plains. In the summertime, the top layer of permafrost thaws turning the tundra into a large bog, but deep down the earth is still frozen making it impossible for trees to grow; the only plants here are small shrubs, moss and lichen. Cold, dry and sometimes gale force winds whip across the land in all seasons making it even more inhospitable, yet nomadic tribes still cling to life out here. The average winter temperature is -28°C, though it can get down to -50°C. Most people would find these temperatures a little trying; it would be irresponsible to recommend the tundra as a suitable winter getaway. The extreme northerly latitude means months of endless daylight in the summer, and months of dark nights in the winter. This is best experienced in the more hospitable northerly cities of Sweden or Finland. In the summer, day time temperatures usually get up to 12°C but in fact temperatures above freezing cannot be guaranteed from day to day. Night times slip well below freezing and this large difference in temperature from day to night can be seen throughout the year. This is due to the aridity of the region; the region receives 150-250mm of rain annually, falling almost entirely in the short summer. Visiting Russiaâs tundra is for the adventurous or masochistic and not for those seeking a nice relaxing break.
Global warming is drastically changing the climate of the tundra. Permafrost is beginning to melt more extensively and for longer, endangering this unique habitat. As global warming continues the thaw will increase further, releasing large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. In Alaska, the tundra has already turned from a carbon sink into a carbon source. The record thawing of ice over the Arctic Ocean is already playing havoc with the lives and migratory patterns of many animals, namely the endangered polar bear.
To the south of the northern band of tundra, stretching the entire width of the country and covering all of eastern Russia, save for the very southeast, is a band of taiga: an area with an extreme continental climate, larger than the USA. Temperatures are more extreme here than further north due to isolation from the large bodies of water, but as this means longer, true thaws the area is actually much more hospitable to life and is heavily forested. Russiaâs taiga is actually the largest forested region in the world. This is made possible by 200-750 mm of annual rainfall, which is by no means high but rather essential for plant growth. Rain falls mostly in summer. In Yakutsk, a city in this region, the height of summer in July sees an average high temperature of 25°C, though the record high is 38°C, and in winter, the lowest average, in January, is -39°C, though the record low is -64°C. These extremely cold winters are not accompanied by thick snow, as precipitation is not very high year round, especially in the winter, as in the rest of Russia. Sometimes an incredibly strong, easterly wind called the âburanâ can blow all of the snow off the ground. This wind affects all of Russia not protected by the Urals. This region is also subject to the long summer day and long summer night, day and night lengths remaining more normal further south. Spring and autumn are brief but incredibly intense periods of change and can offer the most beautiful of forest landscapes as trees burst into life in spring, or their leaves turn in autumn creating an endless fiery sea.
Covering the entire centre of the taiga area is the Central Siberian Plateau, an elevated area with a slightly cooler (!) climate. Southwestern areas of Siberia have slightly milder summers and winters due to the effects of the distant Atlantic Ocean. The Ural Mountains block the majority of the warm Jet Stream, originating in the Atlanticâs Gulf Stream, which is why Russia is so much colder than the rest of Europe at similar latitudes; but the mountains tail off in the south letting the Jet Stream through. Coastal regions on the Sea of Othosk have a much more moderate, maritime climate.
West Central Russia
West central Russia and the southernmost region of eastern Russia receives a continental climate with all four seasons and a smaller of temperatures from summer to winter. This region has the most pleasant climate, suitable for agriculture, and includes countryâs biggest cities: Moscow and St. Petersburg. Annual rainfall is around 700 mm with only slight variations in rainfall from month to month, summer being the wettest season. Winters are still very long and cold, and summers are still warm and short, but it is incredibly mild in comparison to the taiga regions to the north and east. This is one of the most populated regions of Russia; even here, with its âmildâ climate, the winters are so severe that the rivers freeze and people are forced to rely largely on rail services as driving conditions become too dangerous; even in the south of this region the moderate layer of snow lasts for three months. The short summers last from June till August; the shorter autumns fall in September and October; winters drag from November till mid-March; springs last from mid-March through May.
Again, this concerns a very large area and there are many regional variations. Typically, interior, easterly regions receive greater extremes of temperature. The mildest climate in Russia can be found on the Baltic coast where St. Petersburg is located. St. Petersburg reaches its highest average high temperature in July at a pleasant 23°C, and its lowest low average in February at -7°C. Moscow, inland to the southeast, sees an average high of 25°C in July and an average low of -10°C in February. Areas west of the Urals typically see higher temperatures and precipitation.
Southern Russia is a transition zone between the humid continental climate of the regions to the north and the desert climates of the countries to its south, classified as a steppe climate. It also has a large central area of desert surrounding the Aral Sea and a humid sub-tropical zone around the Black Sea. The desert area is typically very arid with huge differences in temperature from day till night. Summers see ridiculously high day time temperatures in the 40s with nights in the mid-20s. Winters have cooler days around the mid-20s and at night time it can get down to freezing. The remaining steppe area is highly populated. Though it is flat, arid land, with very erratic rainfall, the soil is very fertile and agriculture does its best to work with its minimal water. Yet again, summers and winters are extreme, with peak highs and lows creating a range of 40°C to -40°C.
This sub-tropical area is becoming increasingly important to Russiaâs tourism industry. Sochi, sitting on Russiaâs southern Black Sea coast, sees moderate levels of rainfall, around 1600 mm falling throughout the year, at its heaviest in winter; long hot summers with temperatures of 20°C or above from May till October; and mild winters from December till February, with average highs hovering around 10°C and lows usually staying above freezing. This climate arises due to the protection of the Caucasus Mountains and the moderating effects of the warm Black Sea. The Black Sea is connected to the Atlantic Ocean, but, being mainly surrounded by land, is warmer than the vast Ocean.