Weather and climate

The landscape of Russia is impacted greatly by its climate. In particular, temperature extremes characterize Russia's weather. Low winter temperatures have a tremendous impact on basic physical processes and human activities. Extremes in temperature and low annual precipitation are a direct result of Russia's high latitudinal position and of its location in the northern part of Asia, the world's largest landmass.

Russia's weather and climate are so severe that scientists have devoted much time to studying them. One Russian geographer-scientist was Vladimir Koppen. He is considered the “father of modern climatology,” the study of climates. Born in Russia in 1846, Koppen became deeply interested in the climate of the steppes. The steppes are vast grasslands that extend almost all the way across the country.

In St. Petersburg, where he did his research, he created the first world map of temperature belts in 1884. Scientists throughout the world were soon using this map. In 1900, Koppen created a system to classify climates. Koppen was also a biogeographer. He studied the influence of weather and climate upon the distribution of plants. His background led him to create a classification that was, in part, a descriptive vegetation region system.

He used the letters A, B, C, D, and E to identify his climates.

Russia Weather and Climate

Koppen's Major Climatic Regions

  • A tropical rainy climates (forests); not found in Russia
  • B dry climates
  • BW for wasteland or deserts
  • BS for grasslands or steppe
  • C midlatitude rainy climates with mild winters (deciduous forests)
  • D midlatitude rainy climates with cold winters (evergreen forests)
  • ET polar tundra climates (moss, lichens, or ice)

Koppen wrote that weather changes from day to day, but that climate changes very slowly. Climate, according to Koppen, describes and integrates the averages, totals, and extremes of weather over long periods of time. The two most important climatic factors are temperature and precipitation.

ET Climates: Subpolar or Tundra

The ET or tundra climate is found along Russia's Arctic coast, from the Norwegian border to the Bering Strait that separates Russia from Alaska. During at least one month of the year, this climatic region experiences an average temperature above 32°F (0°C). No month has an average temperature higher than 50°F (10°C).Weather is severe, and strong winds continually sweep across a landscape that has little vegetation. Winters are long, and there is no sunlight for several months. Precipitation ranges from 6 to 12 inches annually (15 to 31 centimeters). Widespread swamps form where permanently frozen ground prevents subsurface drainage.

D Climates, or Humid Continental

D climates with short summers and long, severe winters characterize most of Russia. These climates occupy a zone 1,000 to 1,200 miles (1,609 to 1,931 kilometers) wide south of the ET climate belt, from the Polish border to the Pacific Ocean. The coldest month averages 32°F (0°C) or below. The warmest months exceed 50°F (10°C). Winters are very long and very cold. Temperatures below freezing prevail for at least five to six months in most places—particularly in Siberia. Precipitation is limited. It ranges from an annual average of 32 inches (81 centimeters) along the western border to 12 inches (31 centimeters) in central Siberia. This climate in Siberia coincides with the Russian “taiga,” the largest continuous area of forest on Earth.

C Climates, or Subtropical

C climates are the mildest found in Russia. Only a few areas, such as the northern Caucasus region, the southernmost point in Russia, enjoy this pleasant climate. The coldest month averages less than 65°F, but remains well above freezing. Temperatures for the warmest months exceed 72°F (22°C). Amounts of precipitation vary from 22 inches to 32 inches (56 to 81 centimeters) a year, and in seasonal distribution. Less than one percent of the total area of Russia has this climate type.

BS Climates, or Dry Steppe

The BS or dry steppe climates are found in a belt south of the forests of southern Russia. Broad, flat, dry, grassy plains characterize this region. Precipitation is limited. It averages between 10 and 20 inches (25 to 51 centimeters) a year. Normally, the amount of precipitation is less than the potential evaporation. Because evaporation is excessive, there is little water to help plants develop. Droughts are frequent. Average annual temperatures vary greatly.

BW Climates, or Very Dry Desert

The BW, or very dry desert climate, characterizes areas north of the Caspian Sea. Rainfall averages of 8 inches (20 centimeters) or less mean precipitation is more meager and more erratic than in the BS (steppe) climate. As in the BS climate, there are “hot” and “cold” deserts, depending on temperature. Humidity is low and skies usually are clear of clouds. Dryness here is not only related to annual rainfall totals, but also to a function of evaporation that is closely dependent upon temperature. As temperatures increase, so does evaporation. Cloudless skies, nearly 85 percent of the year, and low humidity allow maximum sunlight and heating during the day. At night, however, heat rapidly radiates (escapes) back into space. Thus, day and night temperatures range greatly.

Other Complex Climatic Regions

Russia also has other complex climatic regions. They include the “undifferentiated highland climates” found in mountainous regions. Here, altitudinal zonation (elevation differences) creates climatic bands that extend from the base of mountains to their tops. Different climates also are found on northern and southern slopes.

A distinct “monsoon” climate is found along the coastal regions of the Far East, from Vladivostok northward to the Amur River. Average annual precipitation ranges from about 25 to 40 inches (64 to 102 centimeters).Most of it falls during the summer. Temperatures in this monsoon climate are mild for the latitude. Also, most major cities have distinct “urban climates,”which are warmer and drier than surrounding areas.

At times, there are unusual winter “urban fogs.” The burning of fossil fuels creates water droplets that condense into ground clouds.