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Climate - Svalbard

Temperature, rainfall, prevailing weather conditions, when to go

United States version (°F - inches - feet). See also the metric version (°C - mm - meters)

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Svalbards, where they are on the map

The climate in Svalbard is subpolar along the west coast, reached by the last branch of the Gulf Stream, and is polar on the east coast, where the temperature remains around freezing even in summer. In winter, the polar ice typically reaches the north and east coasts of the islands, while leaving free the western ones.
No coincidence that the settlements (Longyearbyen, Barentsburg, Pyramiden, Ny-Alesund) are located in the western side of the main island, Spitsbergen, where the temperature in the summer months rises above freezing, albeit by a few degrees.
Here are the average temperatures in Longyearbyen.
Longyearbyen average temperatures
Longyearbyen J F M A M J J A S O N D
Min (°F) -4 -6 -4 3 19 30 37 36 27 16 7 0
Max (°F) 9 9 9 16 27 37 45 43 34 25 18 12

Clashes between air masses of different origin give rise to an unstable and windy weather for much of the year, while in summer the meeting of currents can lead to fog, especially offshore.
The islands are property of Norway, but in the past there were also Soviets settlements (Barentsburg, Pyramiden, the latter now abandoned) and there are still Russians inhabitants.
In inland areas there are hills, snow-covered all year round, from which glacier tongues descend, which eventually flow to the sea. The highest peak, Newtontoppen, reaches 5,620 feet. In summer, you can also enjoy skiing.
Wind is frequent throughout the year, although it calms a bit from June to August.
The northernmost tip of Svalbard is only 620 miles from the North Pole. Being well beyond the Arctic Circle, in the Svalbards the sun never sets for a long period, from April the 20th to August the 25th, while it never rises from late October to mid-February. The long polar night, however, can be lit by the aurora borealis.
The islands are a destination for cruises, to see fjords and glaciers, as well as the millions of migratory birds that pass in the summer, as well as polar bears, whales and seals.

Beware of polar bears!

Precipitation is not abundant, since it amounts to about 11 inches per year within the western fjords, but it's frequent and occurs mainly in the form of light snow. In summer, it takes the form of rain or drizzle, at least in the plains. Along the coast and in the most exposed mountain slopes, precipitation is more abundant, and can reach 40 inches per year.
Here is the average precipitation in Longyearbyen.
Average precipitation Longyearbyen
Longyearbyen J F M A M J J A S O N D Year
Prec. (in) 0.8 1.2 1.2 0.6 0.6 0.8 1.0 1.2 1.0 0.8 0.8 1.0 10.8
Days 15 14 16 12 10 9 12 14 14 14 14 14 158

Winter is long (going from October to May) and cold, with frequent snowfalls, usually in the form of light snow. The average temperature of February in Longyearbyen is 1.5 °F. April and May are still cold months, but with the eternal light they are very different from the dark winter months.
The coldest records are very low, -40 °F in Barentsburg and -49 °F in Longyearbyen, but in fact these values are reached very rarely, because the climate at high latitudes in recent decades has warmed significantly: so it's more likely for the temperature to drop, in the coldest days of the year, to -4/-13 °F.
Sometimes the temperature can exceed freezing by a few degrees and it can rain even in winter, and this typically happens when a cold wave in Europe is about to occur: in fact there is a heat exchange, so warm air from the south comes this far, and in return the polar air moves towards the south.
The Bear Island (Bjørnøya), more than 125 miles south of the main islands, is much milder in winter, as the average temperature of the January-March period is 19.5 °F, while in summer the difference with the main islands is little.

Summer, from June to mid-September, is cold: in June and September the temperature is just above freezing, while in July and August, the warmest months, the average is around 39/41 °F.
On warm days, the temperature can reach 64.5/68 °F inside the largest fjords, as happens in Isfjorden, in which Longyearbyen and Barentsburg are located, while in the "maritime" Ny-Alesund it doesn't go above 55/57 °F.

The amount of sunshine in Svalbard is never good, however, it's acceptable in April and May, and then gradually decreases, but remains quite acceptable from June to August: of course, the sky is often cloudy, but there is some chance to see the sun for a few hours, given the length of the days, perhaps even at midnight.


The sea is very cold throughout the year; as mentioned, the west coast, where there are the main settlements as Longyearbyen, is generally free of ice.
Here are the average sea temperatures.
Sea temperature Longyearbyen
Longyearbyen J F M A M J J A S O N D
Sea (°F) 36 36 36 34 36 37 41 43 41 39 37 36

When to go

The only two months when the temperature is permanently above freezing, at least in the plains, are July and August, therefore they are the best months. Of course, you must bring warm clothes.
To visit the Svalbards in their winter appearance, April and May are preferable, as the sun is above the horizon, and therefore it is not dark all day.
The time zone is the same of Norway and Central Europe, and even here there is daylight saving time.

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