Russia is a vast country comprising a large part of eastern Europe and the whole of northern Asia. The traditional geographical division between Europe and Asia is the Ural Mountains, which split the country from north to south in about longitude 60°E. The whole of northern Russia is within the Arctic Circle.
In this large country climate ranges from cold Arctic conditions to hot desert and subtropical lands where tea and rice are grown. The dominant feature of Russian weather and climate is the extreme cold of winter, which prevails in all but a small part of the south of the country. This harsh Russian winter has helped to defeat invaders such as Napoleon and Hitler, and it affects most aspects of Russian life even today. Adaptation to the Russian winter is a necessary but difficult process. Anyone intending to visit the country between late October and April should study the temperatures in the accompanying tables and take appropriate clothing! Only Antarctica, Greenland, Alaska, and Northern Canada experience comparable cold, frost, and snow as are found in winter over most of Russia.
Surprisingly, over much of the country temperatures in summer are quite warm, even during the short summers in northern and eastern Siberia. There is a rapid rise of temperature in spring, the season of the thaw (rasputitsa), and an equally rapid fall of temperature in the autumn. In effect, over much of the country there are only two seasons, winter and summer. This is a characteristic feature of what climatologists call a continental climate, and some of the best examples of this can be found in Russia.
There are two principal reasons for the cold of the Russian winter: the great size of the land mass of Europe and Asia, which means that the country is isolated from the moderating influence of warm ocean waters; and the high latitude of much of the country with a northern coastline on the Arctic Ocean, which remains frozen for most of the year.
The severity of the Russian winter is significant for transport. Except in the extreme south of the country the rivers are frozen for prolonged periods in winter and inland water transport comes to a halt. Road transport is also difficult and therefore the railways and air services are particularly important. The period when rivers are completely frozen varies from 70 days a year in the west of the country to as much as 250 days in northern Siberia. It is a good general rule that the severity and length of winter increase eastwards. The only harbours that are normally ice free throughout the year are those on the Black Sea coast and around Murmansk and Archangel, where the influence of the Gulf Stream from the Atlantic raises sea temperatures. A shipping route from the Atlantic to the Pacific along the Arctic coast is kept open for brief periods in summer with the aid of powerful ice-breakers.
So intense is the cold in winter that northern and eastern Siberia experience a phenomenon called permafrost. Here the subsoil remains frozen al the year although the topsoil may thaw out during the summer. This raises special problems for building construction and the laying of pipelines.
Almost everywhere in the country precipitation is rather low. In some of the major grain-producing areas of southern Russia, drought can drastically reduce crop yields in some years. Spring and early summer months are the wettest over much of the country with rainfall of the showery, thundery, type. Winter snowfall, although frequent, is rarely very heavy and strong winds, the buran or blizzard, often sweep the ground bare of snow.
European Russia, North and Central
Including Archangel, Gorky, Moscow, Perm, St Petersburg.
This huge region extends west to east from the western border of Russia as far as the Ural Mountains and north to south from the Arctic coast as far as northeastern Ukraine. The land is mostly below 300 m/1,000 ft and is level or gently rolling country. This part of Russia has the most variable weather both in summer and winter as it is more open to weather disturbances from the Atlantic and northwest Europe. The mildest areas in winter are near the Baltic coast but even here the sea often freezes.
The increasing severity of winters eastwards and northwards is illustrated by comparing the tables for Moscow, Perm (near the Urals), and Archangel (close to the Arctic Circle). Summers at St Petersburg (at the head of the Gulf of Finland) are a little cooler than those inland and further east. Summers become warmer eastwards and southwards. The whole area has a summer maximum of precipitation. Hours of sunshine are rather low in winter over the whole region and average only an hour or two a day but in summer this rises to between eight and ten hours. In summer the increasing day length in the north is important for both warmth and sunshine.
Southern European Russia
Including Astrakhan, Groznyy, Rostov, Sochi, Volgograd.
Although the winters are still cold here and spells of extremely cold weather occur when easterly winds blow from Siberia, the winter is shorter and the spring thaw comes earlier. The tables for Kiev in Ukraine and Chisinau in Moldova show weather that is very similar to that in most of southern Russia.
Towards the southeast, in the steppe region north of the Caucasus and west of the Caspian Sea, the climate becomes distinctly drier. This steppe is rather windswept and hot, dry winds in summer (the sukhovey) raise temperatures and bring very low humidity, which harms crops. The opposite of this hot wind is the buran, a bitterly cold wind often associated with blizzards in winter. The table for Astrakhan, where the Volga River enters the Caspian Sea, shows the near-desert climate of southeastern Russia.
One small area in southern Russia is particularly favoured with mild winters: the eastern shore of the Black Sea. This area is sometimes called the Russian Riviera and is a popular summer holiday resort. Although the summer climate here is sunny, with ten or more hours of sunshine a day, rain falls all the year round and can be particularly heavy.
The table for Sochi on the eastern shore of the Black Sea shows the weather that is typical of the 'Russian Riviera'.
Including Yekaterinburg, Irkutsk, Novosibirsk, Omsk, Tomsk, Verkhoyansk, Vladivostok.
This region extends from the Urals to the Pacific Ocean in the east, and from the Arctic Ocean to the borders of Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and China. Western Siberia is mostly low-lying and generally flat. Towards the east and northeast, however, the country becomes more mountainous with deeper valleys. It is still a remote and sparsely populated region north of the band of southern settlement along the Trans-Siberian railway. There are few significant differences of weather and climate within this vast territory.
Winter precipitation is quite light and all of it falls as snow. Winters are everywhere very cold and prolonged, but the short summers can be quite warm and pleasant by day once the winter snow has melted. Summers become shorter northwards, but even as far north as Verkhoyansk (see the table) the brief summer has some very warm days. Summer is everywhere the wettest season.
The Siberian town of Verkhoyansk, whose table appears here, has the reputation of being one of the coldest spots on earth, and of having the largest difference between summer and winter temperatures.
The tables for Yekaterinburg, Tomsk, and Irkutsk (all in approximately the same latitude in southern Siberia) show the similarity of temperatures from west to east.
The table for Vladivostok illustrates the rather different climate and weather experienced in a narrow strip along the coast of the Pacific. Winters are still cold and harbours freeze. This is because the dominant winter wind is from the west or northwest and brings very cold Siberian air to the coast. In summer there is a reversal of wind direction as the east Asian summer monsoon brings warm, moist winds off the Pacific so that coastal regions are comparatively wet at this time.
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