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Climate - Sri Lanka

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

See also the US version (°F - inches - feet)

Flag - Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, formerly Ceylon, the climate is tropical, hot and humid throughout the year (in fact, the country is located just north of the equator), and affected by the monsoon regime, which influences the rainfall pattern. In addition, the inland elevations, which are higher in the south-central part of the island, influence the intensity and distribution of the rainfall between different areas: the south-western mountain slopes and the area of the capital Colombo are the rainiest, while the driest areas are the north-west coast (see Mannar) and south-east coast (see Hambantota).
The highest mountain is Pidurutalagala (or Mount Pedro), 2,524 metres high.
The rains in Sri Lanka, as in general in countries having a tropical climate, occur mainly in the form of downpour or thunderstorm.
There are two peaks in rainfall: the first, in April and May, only affects the south-west and the interior, while the second, from October to December, due to the retreating monsoon, affects the whole country. During summer, the southwest monsoon prevails, but it releases the bulk of the rains in India, and in Sri Lanka it brings heavy rains only on the southwest coast (see Colombo) and in the mountainous interior.
From March to May, before the arrival of the monsoon, there is an increase in temperature, more noticeable in the north-central part of the country.

In the north-west (see Mannar, Jaffna), partially protected from neighbouring India, between 1,000 and 1,200 mm of rain per year fall, and the rains are abundant only between October and December.
Here is the average precipitation in Mannar.
Average precipitation Mannar
Mannar J F M A M J J A S O N D Year
Prec. (mm) 39 62 44 81 45 5 12 12 41 166 235 221 963
Days 4 3 3 6 3 1 1 1 2 10 14 12 60

The temperatures in the north are high throughout the year, but there is a greater difference between the winter months and the pre-monsoon period, from March to May. Here are the average temperatures.
Mannar average temperatures
Mannar J F M A M J J A S O N D
Min (°C) 24 24 24 26 27 27 27 26 26 25 25 24
Max (°C) 29 30 32 33 32 31 31 31 31 31 30 29

Along the east coast, around 1,600 mm of rain per year fall, and the rains are more abundant between October and January in the northern part (see Trincomalee), and in the central part (see Batticaloa), where, however, the summer drought is quite pronounced, so the landscape is semi-arid.
Here is the average precipitation in Batticaloa.
Average precipitation Batticaloa
Batticaloa J F M A M J J A S O N D Year
Prec. (mm) 210 128 89 55 39 24 41 49 67 180 350 419 1651
Days 11 7 6 5 3 2 3 4 5 11 16 17 90

The south-east coast (see Hambantota, Kirinda), receives relatively little rainfall like the north-western coast, and even here the rainfall amounts to 1,000/1,200 mm per year, with a relative peak of a little more than 100 mm per month in April and May, and a more pronounced one from October to December.
On mountain slopes (see Nuwara Eliya), it rains a lot and the amount of sunshine is scarce from May to December.
The Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, is located in the rainiest part of the country, namely the south-western side. Here, 2,500 mm of rain per year fall, with two maxima, April-May and October-November, when precipitation exceeds 240 mm per month. Between the two rainy periods, there is a relative summer break in July and August, with about 120 mm, while the driest months, with less than 100 mm per month, are January and February.
Here is the average precipitation.
Average precipitation Colombo
Colombo J F M A M J J A S O N D Year
Prec. (mm) 58 73 128 246 392 185 122 120 245 365 414 175 2524
Days 5 5 9 14 16 16 12 11 15 17 15 10 145

In Colombo the heat is constant throughout the year, with highs around 30/32 °C, but the humidity is a bit lower in January and February. Here are the average temperatures.
Colombo average temperatures
Colombo J F M A M J J A S O N D
Min (°C) 22 23 24 25 26 26 25 25 25 24 23 23
Max (°C) 31 31 32 32 31 30 30 30 30 30 30 30

In Anuradhapura, in the north-central inland region, the heat is intense throughout the year, but especially between March and September. The rainfall amounts to 1,300 mm per year, with a peak between October and December, and a minimum in summer, between June and August. In April and May there is an increase in the afternoon showers, but not so intense as in the south-west.
Anuradhapura average temperatures
Anuradhapura J F M A M J J A S O N D
Min (°C) 21 21 23 24 25 25 25 24 24 23 23 22
Max (°C) 30 32 34 34 33 33 33 33 33 32 30 29


With increasing altitude, the climate becomes milder. Already in Kandy, at 450 metres above sea level and at the centre of the island, the heat is slightly less intense than in the plains: the daily average ranges from 23.5 °C in December and January, to 26 °C in April.
Kandy average temperatures
Kandy J F M A M J J A S O N D
Min (°C) 18 19 20 21 22 21 21 21 20 20 20 20
Max (°C) 28 30 31 31 30 28 28 28 28 29 28 28

The annual rainfall in Kandy amounts to 1,850 mm, with a minimum from January in March, and a maximum between October and December. Here is the average precipitation.
Average precipitation Kandy
Kandy J F M A M J J A S O N D Year
Prec. (mm) 79 74 72 188 144 132 128 113 155 264 296 196 1840
Days 6 5 8 14 11 15 14 13 13 17 16 14 146

In Nuwara Eliya, at 1,900 metres above sea level, the temperature is spring-like all year round, but at night it can be a little cold between December and March. The rainfall pattern is similar to that of Kandy; even here there is not a real dry season, although the rainfall drops below 100 mm per month in February and March. The sky is often cloudy between May and December.
Nuwara Eliya averagetemperatures
Nuwara Eliya J F M A M J J A S O N D
Min (°C) 9 10 10 11 13 13 13 13 12 12 12 11
Max (°C) 20 21 23 23 21 19 19 19 19 20 20 19

Sri Lanka lies in the path of cyclones, even though most of them pass to the north, over India and the Bay of Bengal. The period of cyclones, which are able to bring heavy rains and wind, goes from April to December, with two peaks in May and November, but to tell the truth they can form even in winter, since at a latitude so low the sea remains warm all year round, so it's always able to provide energy for their formation.

In Sri Lanka, the amount of sunshine is never low on the coasts, because even in summer and during the rainy autumn season there are on average about six hours of sunshine a day, however, it is better in the dry season (January to March in Colombo and on the west coast, and February to April in Batticaloa and on the east coast), when there are 8/9 hours of sunshine per day. On the contrary, in the inland mountainous areas the cloudiness is more common, and as mentioned the sun is rarely seen from May to December.

In Sri Lanka, the sea is warm all year round, as we can see from the water temperature at Colombo.
Sea temperature Colombo
Colombo J F M A M J J A S O N D
Sea (°C) 28 28 29 30 29 28 27 27 27 28 28 28

Unawatuna beach

When to go

In general, the best time to visit Sri Lanka is from January to March; on the east coast and in the interior January is still rainy, therefore here the best months are February and March. February is probably the best month of all. However, between April and September the rains are usually poor in the north, east and south-east coasts, therefore, even though it's hot and the sunshine is not too frequent, and cyclones may occur, these areas can be visited even in this period. In summer, in July and August, there is also a certain decrease in rainfall in Colombo and the south-west, so in this period usually the rains are intense only on the inland elevations.
As mentioned, the sea is warm all year round for swimming, however, the best time is from January to March along the south-west coast and in Colombo, and from February to April in the north and east coasts.

What to pack

All year round, light clothes, of natural fibres, light raincoat or umbrella, comfortable shoes, scarf for the breeze, light sweatshirt for the evening, especially in hill cities (see Kandy). In Nuwara Eliya and at high altitudes, spring/autumn clothes, sweater and jacket for the evening, raincoat or umbrella.
For the reef, equipment for snorkeling, water shoes or rubber soled shoes.
To enter temples, it is customary to remove shoes, dress neatly and cover a little.

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