Russia, the country with the largest land area in the world, has a predominantly continental climate. European Russia, including southern parts of Siberia and the Far East, has a humid continental climate (Köppen climate classification Dfa, Dfb, Dwa, Dwb). Northern Siberia and the Northern Pole of Cold is subarctic (Köppen Dfd, Dwd), with severely cold winters. The islands in the Arctic Ocean exhibit a polar climate (Köppen EF, ET). A small portion near the Black Sea coast has a humid subtropical climate (Köppen Cfa), while the region along the Caspian Sea coast and southernmost Siberia display a semi-arid climate (Köppen BSk). Russia lies in Eastern Europe and Northern Asia and shares borders with sixteen countries. The high latitudes, air masses from the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, and proximity to large water bodies, primarily affect the climate.
Russia has a predominantly forested taiga region in the north, with a tundra zone along the northern coast. The rest of the country mainly consists of vast plains, with extensive steppe grasslands in the south. The Caucasus and Altai mountain ranges lie along the southern borders, while the volcanoes of the Kamchatka Peninsula lie in eastern Siberia. The Ural Mountains run north-south to divide Russia between Europe and Asia. The vast coastline of 22,991 miles runs along the Arctic and Pacific Oceans and at least a dozen seas. Thousands of rivers and lakes contribute to the largest surface water reserves on the planet. The Volga is the largest river in Russia and the longest in Europe. The Ob and Yenisey rivers are amongst the longest in the world. Glaciers store a substantial amount of frozen water. Lake Baikal is the world's deepest freshwater lake and along with major lakes like Ladoga and Onega contains a quarter of the world's liquid freshwater. Mount Elbrus is the highest point at 5642 meters in Russia.
Much of Russia has only two seasons, the summer and the winter. Summers range from mild on the northern coast to hot in the interior and south. Frequent thunderstorms and rain are the features of the summer season in the northwestern region. The region near the Caspian and Black Seas has hot and sunny summers. The Sukhoviei are warm winds that blow from Central Asia during the summer. Winters are extremely severe in northern Russia and Siberia, where the average low temperatures frequently drop below an astonishing -40°C (-40°F). Much of the precipitation falls as snow in the winter. The southern parts of Russia have moderate winter, yet the temperatures remain below freezing during January. The Arctic coast and northern islands remain below freezing during winter days. Cold air brings permafrost in much of Siberia and Yakutia, with mostly gray skies.
The Asian Monsoon reaches the southeastern regions of Russia in the summer. The average annual rainfall in Russia ranges from 381mm (15") to 762mm (30") in most places, but much is in the form of snow. The Kamchatka Peninsula and the Kuril Islands in the east receive abundant rainfall of 1016mm (40") to 1524mm (60") annually. Much of the tundra region receives substantial snowfall and is under cover of permafrost. The annual sunshine in highly variable in Russia and ranges from 1200 hours in the extreme north to 2400 hours in the warm south. The northern coast near the Arctic Ocean does not even see the sunrise from November to January. The seawater remains frozen in Tiksi except during the short summer months.
The highest recorded temperature in Russia is 45.4°C (113.7°F) in Kalmykia, set in July 2010. The lowest temperature on record is -71.2°C (-96.2°F), set on January 26, 1926, in Oymyakon.
The best time to visit Russia
The best time to visit Russia is during the summer. July and August are the warmest months in the Asian part of Russia. In the arctic and subarctic regions of Siberia, summer is the only period when temperatures are above freezing. However, the melting of snow causes slush and mud in the early part of the summer. The southern cities have comfortable conditions from June to August. The southernmost, like Vladivostok, have moderate sunshine even in September. European Russia is warm from late May to September, but the northernmost parts have warm conditions only in July and August. The southern regions close to the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus are hot in the summer and have moderate temperatures in May and September.
The worst time to visit Russia
The worst time to visit Russia is the bitter winter season from December to February and the ensuing months of March and April when the snow thaws. The Pole of Cold area in Siberia is colder than even the North Pole. Winter temperatures in Ojmjakon and Yakutsk range from -30°C (-22°F) to -51.1°C (-60°F), which can cause fatalities within minutes due to exposure to the cold. The sunshine is almost non-existent. Sea temperatures are below freezing. Mountains receive substantial deposits of snow. The melting of snow blocks roads and the slush and mud make driving a challenge. Long thermal underwear, fur caps, parkas, boots, and Goretex jackets are necessary to withstand the cold.
Russia has natural weather hazards in the form of forest fires, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanoes, and permafrost. The Kamchatka Peninsula and the Kuril Islands have a history of volcanic eruptions and are prone to seismic disturbances. Mount Kliuchevskoi erupted in 2007 and 2010 and is one of more than 29 active volcanoes in the region. Siberia is prone to spring floods and forest fires in the summer. Central Russia and the Far East are also prone to floods and heatwaves. Freezing rain brought Moscow to a standstill in 2010, with power outages, cancellation of flights, and hazardous roads. Blizzards are frequent in the winter in the northern territories, which bring substantial snowfall and a complete lack of visibility.
Weather in January
January is by far the coldest month of the year in Russia, with extreme temperatures. The mercury column drops to record phenomenal lows, as snow and frost dominate the conditions in the negligible sunshine. Night temperatures reach a nadir of -51.1°C (-60°F) in the Pole of Cold region in the north. Yakutsk registers average temperatures in the -37.2°C (-35°F) to -45°C (-49°F) zone with 254mm (10") of snowfall in January. The polar winds accelerate the cold and create an eerie atmosphere as they howl over the landscape. Frozen rivers, canals, and a white blanket of snow cover much of the land. Saint Petersburg is a hub of winter activities like ice skating and skiing. Lake Baikal is a magical, frozen realm for those who dare to explore the remote interior of Siberia. Dog sleighing and ice fishing are popular in the winter. Vladivostok, near the Sea of Japan, sees 6 hours of daily sunshine, which is contrary to the conditions in most regions. January sees a significant drop in tourist numbers in Russia.
Weather in February
February is severely cold in Russia, with unabated snowfall and biting cold. Moscow, the capital, has freezing days and nights, with average temperatures in the -10°C (14°F) to -3.9°C (25°F) range. The Bering Sea remains frozen in the north, but further south, the Sea of Okhotsk, keeps the average temperatures in Magadan in the range of -17.8°C (-0°F) to -12.8°C (9°F). Layers of snow and frost feathers add an extra dimension of beauty to buildings and structures everywhere. The fallen snow resembles the frosting on the cake on the landscape. There is seldom a time when a glass of Vodka is as useful as the icy days of winter. A troika ride is a fun activity when clad in layers and layers of warm clothing. The Caucasus Mountains protect areas near the Black Sea from extreme cold. Sochi is a popular winter holiday resort, with temperatures in the 2.8°C (37°F) to 10°C (50°F) zone and 4 hours of sunshine that is rare elsewhere in February. Expect severe cold, snowfall, and gray skies in Russia in February.
Weather in March
March continues the winter season in Russia, with freezing nights but slightly warm days. Day temperatures rise above freezing in many places, even though cold air masses stay put in the country. Moscow, in the Great Russian plains, sees daily sunshine for 2 to 3 hours that coincide with an increase in ice-skating crowds. Kaliningrad is milder than most cities on the plains, and the average temperatures of -1.1°C (30°F) to 6.1°C (43°F) often see nights above freezing. Clothing in layers is the best option to survive the icy cold. Additionally, special winter clothing is useful in the frigid regions of the north. A visit to the winter palace in Saint Petersburg is comfortable after the recession of the peak cold. Expect the conditions to be mellow and the snowfall to moderate by the month-end. Wear woolen clothes and carry a fur coat for the cold regions. March is frigid in Russia, but the country gradually fights its way out of the clutches of winter.
Weather in April
April is moderately wet in Russia, as the landscape changes from white to a mix of brown, white, and green. The melting of the snow creates mud and slush in many places that make it challenging to navigate roads or walk on the paths. The fresh aroma of blossoming flowers enchants the land, as hibernating animals wake from the winter slumber. Partly cloudy skies, with 25.4mm (1") to 76.2mm (3") of precipitation, are standard in the southern half of Russia. The southern plains witness 7 to 8 hours of daily sunshine, with average temperatures in Omsk, Yekaterinburg, and Blagoveshchensk, between -1.1°C (30°F) to 8.9°C (48°F). The seawaters are cold throughout the country and are generally too cold for swimming. The southeastern coastline sees an increase in precipitation amid mild temperatures. Museums and parks begin to register an increase in footfalls as the daylight hours gradually increase. Layered clothing and warm coats are the gold standards to counter the cold. April is usually a period to avoid a visit to Russia due to a combination of slush, cold, and rain.
Weather in May
May is warm in a few parts but cold in the rest of Russia. A short spring season begins in the southern region, with the melting of snow and ice. The daily sunshine lasts for 7 to 8 hours, as the average temperatures jump to register between 10°C (50°F) to 23.9°C (75°F) on the southern coasts. The northern coast in the proximity of the Arctic region is still frozen, with average temperatures in the -10°C (14°F) to -2.2°C (28°F) range. Lichens, mosses, and grasses, with wildflowers spread over the surface of the tundra region and conceal the snow. Fir, pine, spruce, and larch trees densely populate the rich taiga forests. Pink and white lotus flowers increase the beauty of the Lower Volga region. The monsoon forest of Ussuriland is under a lush green blanket of undergrowth, draped with vines. Fishing is popular in the peninsular rivers of Kamchatka with abundant spawning salmon. Consider visiting the Kremlin in May when the crowds are fewer, before the beginning of the warm summer in Russia.
Weather in June
June is the beginning of the warm and wet summer season in Russia. Many regions are free from the clutches of snow and remain in the lap of the warm summer. Grozny, in the western Caucasus, registers average temperatures in the lovely range of 15°C (59°F) to 27.8°C (82°F), with the highest rainfall of the year at 71.1mm (2.8") in June. Astrahan, on the banks of the Volga, near the northern Caspian Sea coast, receives 11 hours of beautiful sunshine and registers temperatures between 17.2°C (63°F) and 28.9°C (84°F). The tundra region in the north sees rapid growth of lichens, mosses, and grasses. The Russian Taiga region fosters a host of activities like hunting and fishing, as summer temperatures quickly warm the land to energize the animals. Carry a bear spray but avoid brown bears that are in search of food after a long hibernation. Carry a light rain jacket for protection from the rain. June is a lovely month to visit Russia, as the sun finally smiles on the land.
Weather in July
July is usually the sunniest and warmest month of the year in Russia. The Asian monsoon reaches the southeast part of the country, which registers yearly highs in July. Many places register between 8 to 11 hours of beautiful sunshine, including those in the northern regions. The beautiful country is abuzz with a plethora of activities under the intense warmth of the summer sun. Crowds throng everywhere, from museums, parks, and zoos to historical sites, shopping centers, and restaurants. The summer is hot in the interior areas, with average high temperatures between 29.4°C (84.9°F) to 32.2°C (90°F) near the Black Sea region. Sea temperatures in Makhachkala are in the lovely 22.8°C (73°F) to 25°C (77°F) range and host to a wide range of activities. July is a great time to visit the Arctic coasts and islands, although under cover of warm clothes. Bring light summer clothing for the southern coasts of the Caspian and Black Seas. July brings Russia to life in the warmth of the summer season.
Weather in August
August is hot and sunny in the interior plains of Russia but moderate along the coasts and mild in the extreme north. The monsoon continues to register impressive numbers in August and makes summer, the wettest period of the year. The hot weather is the best time to explore the Caucasus Mountains and enjoy the comforts of alpine resorts. Zhokhov Island, at a latitude of 76°N in Siberia, is an off-track destination worth a trip, with average temperatures in the -2.2°C (28°F) to 1.1°C (34°F) zone. Moscow and Saint Petersburg are worth several days of vacation but are generally crowded and costlier than the winter. Bring a sweater or a jacket as summer evenings are occasionally cool. Many festivals take place in the warm and extended daylight of summer. River cruises are popular in the warm conditions and calm waters of the beautiful rivers in Russia. Watch out for crowds everywhere, as warm weather does not last for long. August is the peak tourism season in Russia, so plan vacations carefully.
Weather in September
September sees a gradual decline in temperatures and rainfall in Russia. Much of Russia does not have a fall season except for a few weeks after the end of summer. Murmansk, in the north, registers average temperatures in the mild range of 3.9°C (39°F) to 10°C (50°F). The extreme north is already under the influence of cold winds and chilly weather. The skies are partly cloudy in many places, with 3 to 4 hours of daily sunshine. The southern cities fare better as warm conditions prevail in Moscow and Kaliningrad. The precipitation is to the tune of 50.8mm (2") to 76.2mm (3"), and the monsoon rains are still active. The summer heat tapers down significantly in the interior regions. Warm jackets are useful in the evenings and nights are cold in the north. Hurricanes occasionally occur near the Pacific Coast, but tropical storms rarely move towards the extreme north. September is the best month for budget travelers who wish to take advantage of fair weather and low travel and accommodation costs in Russia.
Weather in October
October offers a short window of autumn in southern Russia as temperatures drop quickly everywhere. Saint Petersburg has average temperatures in the zone of 3.9°C (39°F) to 8.9°C (48°F). Nights tend to be cold, and days are short in sunlight. Precipitation of 76.2mm (3") is at the highest of the year. Sea temperatures drop below 10°C (50°F) in most of the regions and below freezing in the Arctic Ocean. The southern part of European Russia witnesses leaves changing colors that make the mountains look lovely. The northern plains begin to experience frost and snow as cold winds scourge the landscape. The harvest season brings plenty of food on the table and is a time of festivities. The regions near the Caspian and Black Seas are still warm, and the seawaters are mild. River cruise season attracts plenty of interest in October. Keep a rain jacket and wear warm clothes on outdoor excursions. October is the last month before severely cold weather takes charge of Russia.
Weather in November
November is the beginning of the icy winter season in Russia, with significant snowfall and light rain. Trees show bare limbs as chilly winds blow over the landscape. The Siberian Anticyclone is dominant, and the skies are gray in the vast plains, with hardly 2 to 3 hours of daily sunshine. The eastern Seas receive plenty of snowfall, while Yakutia is cold, with frequent snowfall. Blizzards frequently occur on the Arctic Coast and close sea traffic. The Kamchatka Peninsula receives heavy precipitation in the form of rain and snow. The average temperatures in Omsk, in the south, are in the icy range of -11.1°C (12°F) to -3.9°C (25°F), with hardly a couple of hours of weak daily sunshine. The short daylight hardly lasts for 10 hours, even in the southern parts of European Russia. Budget travelers find Moscow to be more accommodating during November with fewer crowds. Snow lovers are in for a treat as the snow deposits build substantially. November is usually a time to avoid the northern half of Russia.
Weather in December
December is severely cold in Russia, with the land in the grip of snow and ice. The average temperatures are below freezing everywhere except for a small region near the Caspian Sea. The sun is absent in the extreme north, on the shores overlooking the Arctic Ocean. The sunlight barely lasts for 2 to 3 hours in the south, and the winter is moderate in the lower Volga region along the Caspian Sea. Substantial snowfall occurs in the north and the high mountain ranges of the south. The Trans-Siberian Railway from Moscow to Vladivostok is the perfect vehicle to explore the winter wonderland of Siberia in the absence of crowds. Christmas offers reindeer sleighing opportunities in a fairy-tale realm that is too good to miss. Yakutia is a land of extreme challenges that attracts extreme sports lovers during the cold season. December is a time to avoid a visit to Russia for the majority of the tourist population.