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Climate - European Russia

Temperature, rainfall, prevailing weather conditions, when to go, what to pack

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Flag - European Russia

Map - European Russia

The European part of Russia is the one located west of the Ural Mountains.
Because of its large size, this country has different types of climate, but almost everywhere winter is freezing, and summer is moderately rainy.

The main climatic zones are the following: arctic and subarctic in the far north (with only a long cold winter and a cold summer), continental in the inland areas (with cold winters and summers which are progressively warmer as you head south), moderately continental in the western Baltic region (with freezing winters, though more temperate than in the inland regions, and mild summers, with frequent rains, possible thunderstorms in the afternoon and cool nights), Mediterranean on the coast bordering the Black Sea (with mild and rainy winters, and warm and sunny summers), arid continental in the Pontic-Caspian steppe region (with cold winters, hot summers and low rainfall).

Proceeding from west to east, there is typically a sharpening on the continentality (especially with regard to the winter cold) and a decrease in precipitation.

Russia is the cold country par excellence: apart from the climatic differences, the common feature of most of the country is the winter cold.
The European side is less cold than the Asian one, but here the lowest temperatures of the European continent are recorded.

This country is exposed to different influences, warm and cold, so that its climate is characterized by chronic instability, due to the absence of major mountain ranges (excluding the Caucasus in the south). The influence of Atlantic Ocean air masses is not remarkable, though they can bring a wet and mild weather; from the Arctic Ocean, the blizzard is able to bring dreadful snow storms in winter; from Siberia, frigid air masses in winter may arrive, and from Central Asia warm winds in summer, called Sukhoviei.

The only area with a mild climate, being sheltered from the winter frost, is the southern coast of the Black Sea, where the climate is almost Mediterranean, with mild and rainy winters and hot and sunny summers, but with possible thunderstorms.

Northern European Russia, map
The climate is Arctic in the northern islands of Russia (see Franz Josef Land), with an average temperature in the coldest months (which at high latitudes are February and March) around -23 °C, therefore colder than the Svalbard Islands (which belong to Norway), and an average in the warmest month (July) around 1 °C.
Here are the average temperatures of Franz Josef Land.
Franz Josef Land average temperatures
Franz Joseph L. J F M A M J J A S O N D
Min (°C) -25 -26 -26 -21 -10 -2 0 -1 -5 -14 -21 -25
Max (°C) -18 -20 -20 -16 -6 0 2 1 -2 -9 -16 -18

South of Franz Josef Land, in the islands of Novaya Zemlya, which separate the Barents Sea from the Kara Sea, the climate is Arctic in the northern tip, where the average in July is still around 1 °C, while it becomes progressively milder heading south: in Malyie Karmakuly, in the south-central area, it becomes subarctic, with about 4 months above freezing, from June to September, when the average temperatures remains nonetheless below 10 °C. In inland areas, especially in the northern island, there are hills which are home to perennial snows, already at a few hundred metres above sea level.
Malyie Karmakuly average temperatures
Malyie Karmakuly J F M A M J J A S O N D
Min (°C) -17 -18 -15 -13 -6 1 5 5 2 -4 -10 -14
Max (°C) -11 -12 -9 -7 -2 5 10 9 5 0 -5 -8

Along the northern coasts of mainland Russia, bordering the Barents Sea, the climate is subarctic, with a long and cold winter, followed by a cold summer, which lasts for three/four months. The Barents Sea remains ice-free even in winter, because of the last branch of the Gulf Stream. The average temperatures in winter are around -5 °C in the western part of the Kola Peninsula, and decrease progressively towards the east, until they reach about -20 °C in the eastern part (see Amderma). As we have said, along these coasts the summer is cold, with the temperatures that rise a few degrees above freezing in the warmest months, when highs are around 10/12 °C.

In the north of Russia, at a certain distance from the sea or along the shores of bays and sheltered inlets, there is a large area where the climate is cold continental, with a long, cold winter (often colder than in the previous area, due to the increased continentality), and a cool summer, in which the maximum temperatures get close to 20 °C. For example, in Murmansk, in a fjord on the Kola Peninsula, the average temperature in January is -11 °C, while in summer the temperature rises steadily above freezing for about 5 months and a half, from May to mid-October, and the average maximum in July is around 17 °C.
Murmansk average temperatures
Murmansk J F M A M J J A S O N D
Min (°C) -15 -14 -10 -5 1 6 9 8 4 -1 -8 -12
Max (°C) -8 -8 -3 2 7 14 17 15 10 3 -2 -6

Precipitation in Murmansk, not abundant, amounts to 480 mm per year, with a minimum in winter and spring, when light snowfalls occur, and a summer maximum. Here is the average precipitation.
Average precipitation Murmansk
Murmansk J F M A M J J A S O N D Year
Prec. (mm) 30 20 20 20 30 55 60 65 55 45 40 35 480
Days 9 7 6 7 7 10 10 11 11 11 10 10 109

Along the shores of the White Sea, which freezes during winter, being sheltered from the Gulf Stream, the average January temperature in cities like Archangel and Onega, are around -12/-13 °C, while in summer the maximum temperature reaches on average 20/22 °C.
Further east, in the vast plains of the Arkhangelsk Oblast and Komi Republic, there are areas where the lowest temperatures of the European continent have been recorded: -52 °C in Vorkuta (in 1978), and -56 °C in Pechora (in 1946).
Here are the average temperatures in Pechora, located at a latitude of 65 ° N.
Pechora average temperatures
Pechora J F M A M J J A S O N D
Min (°C) -23 -21 -14 -8 0 7 11 8 4 -3 -14 -20
Max (°C) -14 -13 -4 3 10 18 22 17 10 2 -7 -12

However, here in summer the average maximum temperature stays around 22 °C, with short periods above 30 °C. The rainfall is around 550/600 millimetres per year, and summer is the rainiest season (winter is too cold to have substantial precipitation, which, however, are frequent and weak, in the form of light snow, for many months,).

Central European Russia, map
Further south, we enter into a wide flat area that includes Moscow, St. Petersburg and the major cities of European Russia. This area has a continental climate, with cold winters, but the temperatures remain below freezing for a shorter time than in the previous northern area. Summer is warm, and rainfall is frequent throughout the year, though with a summer maximum. In this vast area, the climate becomes progressively more continental as you move towards the east, mainly because of the colder winter, so much so that in Ufa, more than 1,000 kilometres east of Moscow, the average in January is -13 °C, therefore definitely lower than in the capital (see below), while the summer become slightly warmer.

In St. Petersburg, the influence of the sea is not substantial, because the Gulf of Finland during winter is often frozen. Winter is freezing: the average in January is -8 °C, although a little less cold than in Moscow. On the contrary, in the other seasons the maritime influence is evident, so that the summer is mild, with highs around 21/22 °C, but humid and rainy. August is usually more rainy than July. Occasionally, however, warm air masses from the continental area can arrive here (which is reminiscent of the descriptions of Dostoevsky's hot and muggy St. Petersburg).
St. Petersburg J F M A M J J A S O N D
Min (°C) -11 -11 -6 0 6 11 14 13 8 3 -2 -8
Max (°C) -5 -5 1 8 16 20 22 20 15 8 2 -3

In St. Petersburg, precipitation is not abundant during the long winter months, when it occurs often in the form of light but frequent snowfalls, while they are more abundant in summer (August is the rainiest month). Here is the average precipitation.
Average precipitation Saint Petersburg
St. Petersburg J F M A M J J A S O N D Year
Prec. (mm) 35 30 30 35 45 50 70 80 65 75 45 50 610
Days 14 12 9 8 8 8 8 10 11 12 12 14 126

The sea in Saint Petersburg is cold all year round, and as mentioned in winter it can freeze.
Sea temperature St. Petersburg
St Petersburg J F M A M J J A S O N D
Sea (°C) 1 0 0 1 4 8 13 15 13 9 6 3

St. Petersburg

In the great Russian plain, winters used to be colder: the average temperature in recent decades has increased by a few degrees, and cold waves from Siberia have become more rare. In Moscow the January average temperature of the last decades is -9 °C; the average daily temperature remains below freezing from November to March. Summer is warm, with a July average of 18 °C, but sometimes it can get hot. In summer there's no shortage of rainy days, while in periods of sunshine and good weather, some thunderstorms may break out in the afternoon.
Moscow average temperatures
Moscow J F M A M J J A S O N D
Min (°C) -12 -11 -6 2 8 12 14 12 7 2 -3 -9
Max (°C) -6 -4 2 10 18 22 23 22 15 8 1 -4

Outside of the main territory, in the west, between Poland and Lithuania, we find the small exclave of Kaliningrad (formerly Königsberg). Here the climate is Baltic semi-continental, with cold winters (with frequent snowfall, though generally not abundant), and mild summers.
Kaliningrad average temperatures
Kaliningrad J F M A M J J A S O N D
Min (°C) -6 -5 -2 2 7 11 13 12 9 5 1 -3
Max (°C) -1 0 5 11 17 21 22 22 17 12 6 2

Precipitation in Kaliningrad amounts to 800 mm per year, with a minimum in spring, and a maximum in summer and autumn. Here is the average precipitation.
Average precipitation Kaliningrad
Kaliningrad J F M A M J J A S O N D Year
Prec. (mm) 55 40 45 35 55 70 80 90 90 80 90 75 805
Days 13 9 10 8 8 9 11 10 12 11 14 14 129

The Baltic Sea does not invite you to swim, however, the water temperature reaches 18 °C in August.
Sea temperature Kaliningrad
Kaliningrad J F M A M J J A S O N D
Sea (°C) 4 3 3 4 8 13 16 18 16 12 9 6

Southern European Russia, map
In the southern region of Russia, in the plains between Ukraine and Kazakhstan, winters are still cold but shorter, while summers begin to be hot. Rainfall is more scarce, so that the climate is steppe.
In Volgograd, where the average temperature in January is -6 °C, during the summer highs are normally around 29/30 °C, but sometimes they can reach 40 °C; only 350 millimetres of rain fall in a year.

The only part of the entire European Russia where the average in January clearly exceeds freezing, is the Black Sea coast. Should be noted, however, that in this area the winter is not mild everywhere: it's still cold in the Sea of Azov, where the average temperature in January is -0.5°C, while along the coast of the Black Sea it gradually increases, from 2 °C in Anapa, to 6.5 °C in Sochi. So, the only really mild area is that of Sochi, and in fact this was the winter holiday resort for the Soviet nomenklatura: while in the northern coast of the Black Sea some outbreaks of cold air are possible, in Sochi the northern wind blow as a warm and dry down-slope wind coming from the mountains. In summer, the temperature is high: the average in July and August is 23/24 °C.
Sochi average temperatures
Sochi J F M A M J J A S O N D
Min (°C) 4 3 5 9 13 17 20 20 16 13 8 6
Max (°C) 10 10 12 17 21 25 27 28 25 20 15 12

On the other hand, in this area it rains a lot all year round, even in summer, due to showers and thunderstorms occurring in the afternoon. In the northern coast of the Black Sea it rains less, so that in summer only 30/40 millimetres per month fall, compared with more than 100 mm per month in Sochi. Here is the average precipitation in Sochi.
Average precipitation Sochi
Sochi J F M A M J J A S O N D Year
Prec. (mm) 180 125 125 115 100 105 110 125 135 165 185 195 1655
Days 17 14 14 16 13 10 8 8 9 10 14 17 150

The sea temperature in Sochi is warm enough for swimming in summer, especially in July and August, when it touches 24/25 °C.
Sea temperature Sochi
Sochi J F M A M J J A S O N D
Sea (°C) 10 9 9 11 16 21 24 25 23 19 15 11

In the Caspian Sea, the situation is quite different, and the climate is not so mild. Along the northern coast, the climate is semi-desert, with hot summers, when the average is around 24/25 °C in July and August, and cold winters, with an average in January of -5 °C in Astrakhan, and -2 °C in Kaspiyskiy. More to the south, along the coast of Dagestan, winter becomes progressively less cold and a little less arid: the average in January reaches 2 °C in the southern part of Dagestan, near the border with Azerbaijan.
Astrakhan average temperatures
Astrakhan J F M A M J J A S O N D
Min (°C) -9 -9 -3 6 12 17 19 17 12 5 0 -4
Max (°C) -2 -1 7 18 25 29 32 30 24 15 7 1

In Astrahan, precipitation amounts to only 215 mm. Here is the average precipitation.
Average precipitation Astrahan
Astrahan J F M A M J J A S O N D Year
Prec. (mm) 15 10 15 25 20 20 15 15 25 15 15 15 215
Days 4 3 4 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 4 4 40

In winter, the Caspian Sea is colder than the Black Sea, while in summer it becomes equally warm.
Sea temperature Makhachkala
Makhachkala J F M A M J J A S O N D
Sea (°C) 6 4 4 8 14 20 24 25 23 18 12 8

Between the two seas (the Caspian Sea is actually a huge salt lake), we find the Caucasus Mountains, where Mount Elbrus stands out, with its 5,642 metres. The climate varies with altitude and slope exposure: it becomes cold and snowy at high altitudes, while at low altitudes, at the foot of the mountains, it's continental, with cold winters: in Grozny, the average in January is -3 °C. On the contrary, summers are warm or hot: the average in July is 24 °C in Grozny and 20 °C in Vladikavkaz, at 650 metres above sea level.
Grozny average temperatures
Grozny J F M A M J J A S O N D
Min (°C) -6 -5 -1 5 11 15 18 17 13 6 2 -3
Max (°C) 1 3 9 18 24 28 31 30 25 17 9 3

The western part of the Caucasus is more rainy (and more snowy in winter) than the eastern one. Precipitation in Grozny, not abundant, amounts to 440 mm per year, and is scarce in winter, and relatively more abundant in late spring and summer. Here is the average precipitation.
Average precipitation Grozny
Grozny J F M A M J J A S O N D Year
Prec. (mm) 20 20 25 35 55 70 55 45 35 30 25 25 440
Days 5 5 5 5 7 8 6 6 5 6 6 6 70

When to go

The best time to visit most of European Russia is generally the summer (late May to early September in Moscow and St. Petersburg, only July and August in the northern areas), which allows to avoid the discomfort of the cold and bad weather, while in the southern regions (Caspian steppe areas, the foothills of the Caucasus), where the summer is hot, you may prefer May and September.

In St. Petersburg, even in summer there can be cool and rainy days; in June, here as in other areas located at high latitude, you can enjoy the famous white nights, described by Dostoevsky.

In Moscow, where in winter the temperature can drop to -30 °C and below, the summer can sometimes be hot, with highs about 30 °C and even above; in the afternoon there may be some thunderstorms, while sometimes days can be cool even in mid-summer, with maximum temperatures below 20 °C.

The worst time to stay in Russia is probably the thaw: unpaved roads are often impassable because of the mud and melting snow. Depending on the area and the years, this phenomenon, called rasputitsa, comes in different periods. In the Arctic it occurs in summer, while in Moscow it usually occurs on late March or early April, and it lasts for a fortnight. The Russians prefer the icy winter to these cold and wet periods.

If you intend to visit Russia in its winter look, the second half of February has longer days, and temperatures often less cold, though still below freezing.

What to pack

In winter: cold weather clothing, synthetic thermal long underwear, fleece, parka, wind jacket, warm boots. For Sochi and the Black Sea: warm clothes, sweater, jacket, raincoat or umbrella.

In summer: in Moscow and St. Petersburg: spring/autumn clothes, T-shirts and shorts for hot days, jacket and sweater for the evening and cooler days; raincoat or umbrella.
In the Arctic coasts and islands: warm clothes, down jacket, hat, gloves.
In the south, Caspian Sea and Black Sea: light clothing, sweatshirt or light jacket for the evening.

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