As noted earlier,
Mongolia has a very dry climate with extreme and widely fluctuating inland, or
continental, temperatures. Humid air
from the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans is blocked by large mountain
chains on all sides. Mongolia has four distinct seasons with long, cold dry
winters and short, warm and wet summers. Cloud over and precipitation is more
pronounced in Mongolia mountainous and forested north and decreases southwards
through rolling steppe and semi-desert.
With an average of
260 sunny days a year it’s hardly surprising that Mongolia is known as “The Land
of the Blue Sky”. While winter temperatures in the north drop as low as -25°C (-13°F), Mongolia’s summers – when most tourists visit - are generally
pleasant. Spring is most notoriously unpredictable and autumn is regarded by
Mongolians as the best time of year.
For seven to eight
months of the year, Mongolia’s mean temperature is actually below freezing. But
in the short three mounts of summer, the weather turns warm and pleasant in
most of the country but with temperatures in the Gobi Desert rising to 40°C (104°F). (Night temperatures here can still drop dramatically, however.)
Winter lasts from mid-October to April, with January the coldest month
averaging -26°C (-15°F). Although a high-pressure ridge over
northwest Mongolia provides sunny if freezing days, snow does fall but is
relatively light except on mountains peaks. Lakes and rivers are frozen solid
up to a meter thick. In some regions such as the northwest, winter temperatures
can drop to -50°C (-58°C). The lowest
temperature ever recorded was -58° (-72.4°C) at Uvs Lake in the Great lakes
region. Even in the Gobi, winter temperatures can drop to -40°C (-40°F). No wonder Mongolia’s average annual temperature is barely 1°C (33.8°F).
But the greatest
disaster that Mongolian winters can bring is the zud when blizzards, fierce winds and record low temperatures
combine to freeze grass in a layer of ice which prevents livestock from eating.
Usually following unusually dry summers, the zud kills millions of animals and
devastates the rural economy. In consecutive winters in 2000 and 2001, more
than six million or one –tenth of Mongolia’s stock died, prompting massive
domestic and foreign aid assistance. Some regions of Mongolia are still
recovering from this tragedy.
“Spring is like a
woman,” goes an old – and obviously very male- Mongolian saying. And the
weather certainly is changeable, tempering the joys of the long winter’s end
and the start of the growing cycle. Starting in March, the air pressure
fluctuates madly and constant dust and windstorms blow (it can be difficult
just to get out of a vehicle.) Even in May, cool days and freezing nights are
followed by stifling heat waves. Overnight, blistering winds bring sudden
lethal snowstorms- in early Junes 2008 one such storm killed over 50 herders
and thousands of animals on their first post-winter feeding forays on
Mongolia’s eastern steppe. But as the snow melts river rise, trees sprout and
grass reappears, spring is needed a pleasant time.
Mongolia is in full summer mode. The rains begin. The entire countryside is
rightly green and dotted with wildflowers. Rivers flow and waterfalls run,
crops are growing and animals fattening. This is also a time of celebration,
especially the naadam where everyone
completes in the “three manly sports” of horse raising, archery and wrestling.
In the mountainous Hangai, daytime temperatures rise to 20°C (68°F) while out on the steppe are comfortable highs of 25°C (77°F). Without any shade, the Gobi’s 40°C (104°F) challenges
visitors but the heat is dry, not humid (remember to keep up your liquid
intake). But the warmth of summer also brings out Mongolia’s notorious and
pesky flies, especially in its wetter regions and around desert oases (bring
“industrial strength” insect repellent).
summer rainfalls are in the Hentii , Hovsgol and Altai(up to 600mm or 24
inches) and decrease south across the steppe to the Gobi, which typically
receives less than 100mm (4inches). (Ulaanbaatar averages 310mm, or 12 inches,
a year). At the same time, some parts of the Gobi receive no rainfall for years
and are then quite suddenly hit by raging storms and flash floods that
literally change the landscape overnight. (Begun in Soviet times, Mongolia uses
rock rockets to seed clouds and create more rain.)
about their Golden Autumn. Temperatures and rainfall drop off, grain crops are
harvested, and the grassy steppe and thick forest floors turn golden yellow
(Mongolia’s larch is deciduous, turning color and carpeting the forest floors
in reddish needles.) Preparation for
winter begin as herders gather fodder and move their animals to winter camps
protected from the cold and wind.
Sadly, even remote
Mongolia does not appear immune from the effects of global climate change. An
internationally funded study in 2005 by the Assessment if Impacts and
Adaptations of Climate change (AIACC), an organization that assists developing
countries deal with this problem, found winter temperatures rising in
Mongolia’s high mountain regions
generally drier winters and springs, and drop in annual precipitation in its
central region. Summer droughts have also increased, severely aggravating the
winter zud episodes in 2000 and 2001.
More recent reports from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) blame
the phenomena for Mongolia’s increased
desertification. With world record prices for cashmere, other blame Mongolia’s
skyrocketing number of goats who, unlike sheep, habitually chew grasses down to
especially the nomads, live totally in tune with nature and don’t rely much on
scientific data. But anecdotally, visitors will certainly hear much from them
about recent changes in climate (the weather is one of the first topics of
conversation after formal greetings). In the spring and early summer of 2008,
everyone spoke of the dry winter before and how dreadfully low the rivers and
lakes were, even how slow the grass was returning.
Resource: Carl Robinson "Mongolia Nomad Empire of Eternal Blue Sky"