China is a vast country with diverse climatic patterns. The climate ranges from tropical monsoon in the northeast (Köppen climate classification Am, Aw) to temperate type (Köppen variations of Cw, Cf, Dw, Ds, Df) in the east and south. The northwest is arid (Köppen BSh, BSk), while the high mountains in the west and southwest exhibit a tundra type climate (Köppen ET). China occupies a large part of East Asia and shares borders with fourteen countries on land plus four on water. The latitudes, high mountain ranges, monsoonal rains, and proximity to seas in the east, influence the climate.
China has a diverse topography with high plateaus, snow-capped mountains, rolling plains, broad river valleys, and vast deserts. The southern coasts and eastern plains have the most fertile lands in the country. The north and west have arid lands, massifs, sunken basins, and the highest tableland of Tibet in the world. Eastern China consists of plains in the northeast and north and hills in the south. The Xinjiang-Mongolia region in the northwest contains the vast Taklamakan Desert. The highlands in the west and southwest consist of the world's highest mountain peaks, such as Mount Everest (8848 meters) and K2. Major rivers such has the Yangzte, Yellow, Heilongjiang, Zhujiang, and Liaohe flow from west to east, into the Pacific Ocean. Seas such as the Yellow, East China, and South China are parts of the Pacific Ocean. Shishapangma is the tallest peak to lie entirely in China with a height of 8013 meters in the Tibetan Himalayas.
Summers are hot everywhere in China except for the high mountains and highlands. Winters are cold in the north and mild in the south. Manchuria, the northeast part of China, has hot, rainy summers and frigid, dry winters. July is the hottest, while January is the coldest month of the year. The northwest is arid with hot summers and freezing winters. Turpan is the hottest region in China, with an average high temperature of 40°C (104°F) in July. The mountain ranges in the west, including the Himalayas, Pamir, Karakoram, and the Tian Shan remain cold, even in the summer. The average temperatures on Mount Everest are between -18.9°C (-2°F) to -36.1°C (-33°F) in January. Snowfall occurs through much of winter, and even in the summer. The mountains are relatively warm in the southern province of Yunnan. January average highs register at 15.6°C (60.1°F) at the height of 2000 meters. The southern border with Burma and Vietnam sees heavy rainfall during the hot and humid summers. Winters are very cold in the central region, with average temperatures between -10°C (14°F) to 0°C (32°F) in January. Summer is hot and humid in the capital city of Beijing. The eastern coastal areas have a temperate climate with mild summers and winters. Shanghai receives up to 1168.4mm (46") of rain annually.
The annual rainfall in China ranges from a scarce 254mm (10") in the northwest to more than 1524mm (60") in the southeast. The monsoonal rains arrive during the hot summer, which is the period of the highest humidity. The southeast is the rainiest, while the northwest is the driest region. June to August is the period of the highest rainfall. Precipitation frequently occurs in May and September in many places. Sunshine is ample and registers between 1800 hours to 2800 hours. The northern region is the sunniest, while the eastern region is the cloudiest. Chengdu, in southwest China, is one of the cloudiest regions with only 1172 hours of sunshine annually. A substantial amount of snowfall occurs on the high mountain peaks. Snow is evident in the highlands in the winter but is scarce in the lower plateaus and the lower half of the country.
The highest temperature on record for China is 50.3°C (122.5°F), set in Turpan, Xinjiang, on July 24, 2015. The record for the lowest temperature is -57.8°C (-72°F), set in Genhe, Inner Mongolia, on December 31, 2009.
The best time to visit China
The best times to visit China are during the mild seasons of spring and autumn. The period from September to November is particularly enjoyable, with mild temperatures and modest rain. The sunshine is adequate and warm in the day, while the nights are cozy and pleasantly cold. May and September are the best months to visit Manchuria in the northeast, where the conditions are temperate. The weather is at its best in March and April in the far south, where the temperatures are mild, and the skies are mostly clear. Expeditions to the north face of Mount Everest usually target June as an ideal month for reaching the top.
The worst time to visit China
The worst time to visit China is from June to August in the monsoon. The rainy season delivers the majority of the annual rainfall and is humid, cloudy, and hot. The heat index is unbearable at times for visitors from temperate zones. The coastal regions bear the brunt of the rain that reaches significant portions. The summer is an extreme season in the arid northwest where day temperatures reach epic numbers. Travel becomes challenging in the Gobi and Taklamakan deserts. Typhoons frequent the coasts during the summer.
China faces weather hazards like dust storms, thunderstorms, floods, tropical cyclones, typhoons, and earthquakes. Thunderstorms frequently occur in the rainy season with lightning and rain. Heavy monsoon rains create dangers of floods and mudslides. Dust storms are common in the desert belt and reach as far as Beijing. Hurricanes with wind speeds of more than 150 miles per hour are possible in the winter in the mountains. Tropical storms mainly occur on the southern and eastern coasts. Typhoons that originate in the Pacific Ocean are frequent in the southern seas during summer and early autumn season. Strong winds and heavy rainfall are evident during typhoons. The western mountain region of China is prone to frequent seismic activities.
Weather in January
January is usually the coldest month in China, especially in the north, where the temperatures drop to extreme levels. Hailar in Inner Mongolia registers freezing temperatures that average between -20°C (-4°F) to -31.1°C (-24°F). Much of the east has warm days and cold nights. The south has modest temperatures, with temperatures in the Guangdong region between a mild 10°C (50°F) to 18.3°C (64.9°F). Snowfall occurs in the high mountains in the west and southwest. The sunshine lasts only for 3 to 4 hours during the day on the eastern coasts and in the upper half of the country. The anticipation of the Chinese New Year brings hordes of people to the fore that helps to create a warm and festive atmosphere. Kunming is a beautiful place to visit during the winter that does not need heavy clothing except for a sweater or jacket. Long thermal underwear and a heavy jacket such as Gore-tex is a necessity in places like Harbin and Urumqi in the north. January has mild weather in the southeast portion of China.
Weather in February
February is a winter month in China with scanty rainfall in much of the country. The diverse landscape ensures cold days in the north and mild weather in the south. Cold air masses from Siberia penetrate the northern part of the country. Dzungaria in the north has frigid temperatures between -10°C (14°F) and -20°C (-4°F). The average temperatures in Beijing are in the -6.1°C (21°F) to 5°C (41°F) range, with many freezing nights. Guangzhou skies are often cloudy, with hardly 3 hours of daily sunshine. Sea temperatures in Shantou are in the 20°C (68°F) to 21.1°C (70°F), but the mild waters are favorable for swimming, even during the winter. Sweaters and jackets find use in everyday commutes as the conditions are cold in much of the country. The holiday season is costly on the wallet for hotel accommodations and air tickets due to the mass movement of people. February brings festivities in China, with the arrival of the Chinese New Year that marks the end of the cold winter days.
Weather in March
March gradually transitions into the spring season in China with a rise in temperatures. The northern provinces, such as Heilongjiang, Tianjin, and Hebei, are still cold, with average low temperatures between -9.4°C (15.1°F) to 1.7°C (35.1°F). East China is warm, with temperatures in Fuzhou in the 10.6°C (51.1°F) to 17.8°C (64°F) range. Altay in the northwest has cold temperatures between -11.1°C (12°F) to 0.6°C (33.1°F). Shanghai receives up to 101.6mm (4") of rain in March and has partly cloudy skies. The spring sun brings new hope of plentiful crops and a good harvest season. Wildflowers dot the landscape, which turns green at the end of the cold winter. Nights are cozy in much of the country, especially in the warm regions of the south. The weather is pristine to hike the Great Wall of China, especially the famous sections at Jinshanling, Jiankou, Mutianyu, and Simatai. A light jacket is useful while strolling on the wall for protection from the wind. March is the beginning of the tourist season in China with pleasant conditions.
Weather in April
April is a pleasant month in China as the temperatures are warm, even in the north. The average temperatures are above freezing in coldest parts, and snowfall limits to only the high mountain peaks. Chengdu in the south registers average temperatures in the beautiful 12.8°C (55°F) to 21.7°C (71.1°F) range and is a popular tourist hotspot. The giant pandas are a primary attraction in the green landscape of Chengdu in spring. Expect cloudy days in the east with less than 7 hours of daily sunshine. Many parts of east and south China receive between 101.6mm (4") to 177.8mm (7") of rainfall. Rain jackets are handy for a trip on the coast. The Chinese part of the Gobi desert in the north is windy in the spring and subject to storms. April is the best time of the year to visit the Turpan Depression, with average temperatures between 12.2°C (54°F) to 26.1°C (79°F) and 9 hours of daily sunshine. April is a good time to visit China, especially for budget travelers.
Weather in May
May is warm to hot in China as the last days of the spring season see a significant rise in temperatures. Haikou in the south is considerably hot, with temperatures in the 21.7°C (71.1°F) to 29.4°C (84.9°F) zone. Baotou and Hohhot, in Inner Mongolia, have warm temperatures in the 8.9°C (48°F) to 23.9°C (75°F) range. The average temperatures between 24.4°C (75.9°F) to 32.2°C (90°F) in the warm mountains of Kunming make it a desirable place for a vacation. The cruise along the Li River near Yangshuo is fascinating in the warm days of spring in the lap of nature. Paddy fields and green hills dominate the beautiful countryside as farmers cultivate the fields in anticipation of the wet season. The eastern coast is cloudy in many places and sees heavy precipitation between 203.2mm (8") to 304.8mm (12"). Wear summer clothing, and be sure to carry a rain jacket or umbrella in the coastal regions. By the end of May, cloudy skies and humid weather signal the arrival of the monsoon in China.
Weather in June
June is a hot, humid, and wet month in China with the arrival of the summer season. The beginning of the typhoon season has a significant impact on tourist numbers in the south. Abundant rainfall occurs along the coast, even as sea temperatures remain warm on the eastern and southern coasts. The average temperatures in Shenyang in the north are between 17.2°C (63°F) to 27.2°C (81°F). The northernmost part of Manchuria is a nice place for a visit in June, with average temperatures in Tahe in the mild 6.1°C (43°F) to warm 22.2°C (72°F) zone. Mount Everest is abuzz with base camps as the summer provides a short window of calm weather, with warm sunshine. Shanghai is hot and receives up to 177.8mm (7") of rain at the beginning of the wet season. Expect the temperatures to rise significantly in most parts and the conditions to be sticky. Mudslides occur in the highlands where the precipitation is abundant. It is better to avoid June for a visit to the lower half of China.
Weather in July
July is hot and wet in China, with the humidity levels at the highest of the year. Mornings are humid, while the stickiness tends to be lower in the afternoons. The monsoon reaches the Chinese hinterland by the end of the month. The average temperatures in the Hubei and Henan regions in the south are in the hot range of 22.8°C (73°F) to 32.8°C (91°F). The Jiangxi region in the east reaches average high temperatures of 34.4°C (93.9°F). Turpan reaches its highest average temperature of the year at 40°C (104°F). The precipitation in the range of 203.2mm (8") to 304.8mm (12") in the east and south makes the conditions challenging with rampant mudslides in many places. Cloudy skies and a wet atmosphere add a misty touch to the most beautiful mountain in China, the Yellow Mountain. Expect plenty of rain during the monsoon and always carry an umbrella. Seemingly clear skies quickly give way to dark clouds that pour their hearts out. The stifling heat makes air-conditioners necessary in indoor spaces. July is a slow season for tourism in China.
Weather in August
August is hot and wet in China, with cloudy skies and a high level of humidity. The central and east portions are hottest, followed by the cloudy south. The average temperatures are between 23.9°C (75°F) to 33.9°C (93°F) in the hottest regions. Hongkong and Macau in the southcentral region are the rainiest with 355.6mm (14") to 406.4mm (16") of precipitation in August. The northern highlands of the country offer travelable and milder conditions in the summer. The highland plateau of Tibet is one of the best places for a visit in the wet season. The landscape of the Holy Land uncovers breathtaking views while traveling via the highest railway of the world, the Qinghai Tibet Railway. The snow-capped mountains look straight out of fairy tales in the background of the vast plains. The sunshine is moderate in the national parks of the northern lands. The southern half is susceptible to heavy precipitation and typhoons during the rainy season. The conditions become gradually better by the end of August in much of China.
Weather in September
September is a pleasant month in China with warm temperatures and partly cloudy skies in the autumn season. The average temperatures in the Jilin province in the northeast are mild between 9.4°C (48.9°F) and 22.8°C (73°F). Tianjin in the north registers in the warm 16.7°C (62.1°F) and 26.1°C (79°F) range. The wet season persists in the east and south with 127mm (5") to 254mm (10") of average precipitation. Much of the tourist population concentrates in the areas of less rainfall instead of the coast. The Yangzte River cruise is popular among tourists in the warm sunshine of the autumn days and breezy evenings. Zhangjiajie National Park has lush green forest cover to add to more than 3000 tall pillars of sandstone that seem to reach the skies in the misty conditions. Expect the rainfall and typhoon frequency to decrease with the progress of the autumn season. Although it is hard to find a single season to visit the country, much of China has the best conditions in September.
Weather in October
October is a pleasant month in China, with a significant decrease in precipitation and heat. Much of the north begins to experience freezing nights, while the day temperatures are in the 11.7°C (53.1°F) to 21.1°C (70°F) range. The central and south are warm in the 12.8°C (55°F) to 29.4°C (84.9°F) zone. Trips down the southern and eastern shores are pleasant in mid-autumn as the rainfall registers less than 127mm (5") in most places. Shanghai experiences 55.9mm (2.2") of rain in October, and the sea temperatures are mild at 22.2°C (72°F). The sunshine is warm at best in most of the country and lasts between 4 to 6 hours a day. The harvest season is a time of festivities with plenty of produce, as the countryside dips in shades of green. The conditions are temperate in most places, which allow tourists to travel long distances without difficulties. Light jackets are useful during the breezy evenings of autumn. October is a beautiful month to tour China with the added advantage of fewer crowds.
Weather in November
November is mild to cold in China as the autumn season draws to a close. The highlands and mountain slopes receive flurries of snow. The Tibet region is cold, yet Lhasa, the capital, is not out of bounds for many. The average temperatures range between a cold 6.1°C (43°F) to mild 17.8°C (64°F) in Nanjing and Nanchang in the east. The precipitation reduces significantly by the second half of November, but a rain jacket is useful in the coastal areas. Evening breezes frequently occur on the eastern and southern beaches, which see crowds due to the relatively warm conditions. The skies are partly cloudy, with daily sunshine below 6 hours in most regions. The warm mountains of Kunming have temperate conditions with average temperatures in the 7.8°C (46°F) to 17.8°C (64°F) range. Expect the cold to increase with the end of the autumn season. Carry a sweater for high altitude areas and an extra layer of clothing while visiting the north. November is a favorable month for budget travelers to look for deals in China.
Weather in December
December is the beginning of the cold winter in China with mostly clear skies. The average temperatures in Beijing, the capital in the north, are in the cold range of -6.7°C (19.9°F) to 3.3°C (37.9°F). The south is warm, with temperatures in Guangzhou in the 11.1°C (52°F) to 20.6°C (69.1°F) zone. Much of China receives negligible rainfall. Inner Mongolia is the coldest region, with nights significantly below freezing and even day temperatures below 0°C (32°F) in many places. The Yunnan province is one of the sunniest places in the country with the daily sunshine above 7 hours. A substantial amount of snowfall occurs in the high mountains. Harbin, in northeastern China, is one of the few places that offer winter sports in the country. The Ice and Snow Festival in Harbin is a grand event to savor exquisite snow structures. Warm winter coats are necessary along with gloves and caps to sustain the freezing nights in the cold regions. December is a favorable month for a trip to southern China.