Tibet, map

Index


Introduction



The vast Tibetan Plateau, the "roof of the world", spans a large area which goes beyond the political boundaries of the Chinese autonomous region of Tibet (Xizang), since it also includes much of the neighbouring Qinghai Province, which lies to the east. This area has a fairly uniform climate: freezing and windy but dry in winter and mild to cool in summer, with considerable variations between night and day due to the strong solar radiation that is typical of high altitudes. The north is a bit colder than the south, but the temperature varies mainly with altitude; the only significant difference between the areas is that the eastern part is affected by the summer monsoon, so it receives a bit of rainfall (sometimes even abundant) in summer. Lhasa, the capital, is located in the eastern part of the province, while the central and western parts of Tibet are virtually uninhabited, since they are desert. While the coldest areas of China in winter are the northernmost ones, the coldest region in the other seasons is Tibet because of the high altitude.

Lhasa

Lhasa is located at 3,500 meters (11,500 feet) above sea level: at this altitude, the air contains 68% of the oxygen that is found at sea level. In addition, at high altitudes, water boils at lower temperatures: it boils at 90 °C at 3,000 meters (that is, at 195 °F at 9,800 feet), at 87 °C at 4,000 meters (189 °F at 13,100 feet), and at 84 °C at 5,000 meters (183 °F at 16,400 feet). In Lhasa, winter nights are freezing cold, and on colder nights, the temperature can reach -15 °C (5 °F), but it almost always exceeds freezing (0 °C or 32 °F) during the day. It should be remembered that we are at a low latitude (29 ° north), so the sun is quite strong even in winter, which here is the sunniest season. Being that the air is dry, the cold is usually bearable, except when the wind blows: as already mentioned, Tibet can experience strong winds especially in winter. Despite the fact that the winter is dry, sometimes light snowfalls may occur. Summer in Lhasa is mild, quite cold at night, about 9/10 °C (48/50 °F), and pleasantly warm during the day: the average is 23 °C (73 °F) in June, but the almost tropical sun, especially at so high an altitude, is very strong in summer, so it feels warmer in the sun. In the hottest days, the temperature can reach 27/30 °C (81/86 °F) from May to August.
Here are the average temperatures in Lhasa.
Lhasa - Average temperatures
MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Min (°C)-10-7-315910981-5-9
Max (°C)791216192322212016118
Min (°F)141927344148504846342316
Max (°F)454854616673727068615246

The summer monsoon brings rainfall from June to September; July and August are the rainiest month, with 120/125 mm (4.7/4.9 in) per month on average. Here is the average precipitation.
Lhasa - Average precipitation
MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDecYear
Prec.(mm)11252570120125601021420
Prec.(in)000.10.212.84.74.92.40.40.1016.5
Days001151015151020060

In Lhasa, sunny days prevail for much of the year, while in summer, the sun shines a bit less often because of the monsoon. In summer, Mount Everest is often covered with clouds as well, so in this season, it is more difficult to spot. Here are the average sunshine hours per day.
Lhasa - Sunshine
MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Hours988898778999

Lhasa

The vast areas of Tibet located at higher altitudes, and especially the ones located in the north, have a worse climate than the capital. Between 4,000 and 4,500 meters (13,000 and 14,800 ft), the temperature often remains below freezing all day long in winter, while at night, it normally drops to -20 °C /-25 °C (-13 °F /-4 °F), but it can sometimes plunge below -40 °C (-40 °F), after outbreaks of cold air from the north. Summer at this altitude is cold at night, with lows around 3/5 °C (37/41 °F), and mild during the day, with highs around 15/17 °C (59/63 °F).
Here are the average temperatures of Nagqu, located north of Lhasa, at 4,500 meters (14,800 ft) above sea level.
Nagqu - Average temperatures
MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Min (°C)-21-18-14-9-32430-6-14-20
Max (°C)-3-137111516151382-2
Min (°F)-607162736393732217-4
Max (°F)273037455259615955463628

Xining

Xining, located at 2,260 meters (7,400 feet) above sea level, is the most populous city of the Tibetan Plateau and the capital of the Qinghai Province. Here, the lower altitude is balanced out by the higher latitude (the city is located at the north-eastern edge of the plateau), so much so that winter is colder than in Lhasa, while summer is a bit warmer: the average temperature ranges from -6.5 °C (20.5 °F) in January to 18 °C (64 °F) in July. Here, 360 mm (14 in) of rain fall per year, with a maximum of 80 mm (3.2 in) in August, and very little rain (or rather snow) from November to March.
Xining - Average temperatures
MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Min (°C)-14-11-4269121182-6-12
Max (°C)14101620232424191472
Min (°F)71225364348545246362110
Max (°F)343950616873757566574536

As already mentioned, the western part of Tibet, which is even more arid and located at very high altitudes, often above 5,000 meters (16,400 ft), is almost totally uninhabited.

Best Time


The best time to visit Tibet is summer: in Lhasa and in the east, you may prefer May and September to avoid the bulk of the summer rains, but at higher altitudes, and maybe in the western area which is arid, you may prefer the June-August period, to reduce the risk of cold nights, though they are inevitable above 4,000 meters (13,000 ft). In spring and autumn, the climate in Tibet is variable, it can be very cold with possible snow and frost especially at night, while the days can be sunny and mild. Those who don't suffer from the cold can choose spring and autumn, to enjoy clear skies, which among other things allow to see the high mountains in the distance.

What to pack


In winter: in Lhasa, bring warm clothes, a fleece, a hat, gloves, and a parka, being ready to take off the outer layer during the day. In the north and at the highest elevations, bring clothes for the big cold, synthetic thermal long underwear, a parka, a Gore-Tex jacket, gloves, a hat, and a scarf.
In summer: in Lhasa, bring spring/autumn clothes, t-shirts for hot days, a sweater and a jacket for the evening, sunscreen, sunglasses, a raincoat or umbrella, a scarf for the wind, and hiking shoes. For the north and the highest elevations, bring a long jacket for the wind, a down jacket, a hat, gloves, and a scarf. A sleeping bag and a warm jacket for outdoor overnight stays.

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