What is the weather and climate in Antarctica like?
Antarctica is nothing but the coldest continent in the world. It’s colder than the Arctic. And do you know that it’s also the driest place on Earth? Yep, that’s true. These are a few initial facts about the weather in Antarctica. Do they surprise you? Do you want to learn more surprising Antarctica weather facts? If so, this article “What is the weather and climate in Antarctica?” is what you want to check out right now.
Nearly 99 percent of Antarctica is covered by an ice sheet
Antarctica is nearly centered in the South Pole and surrounded by the three oceans of Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian. Larger than Europe, however, 99% of the continent is covered by an ice sheet. The continent is also extremely dry and this is technically a desert. For sure, the weather in Antarctica, well, is so severe.
Keep reading on to know more about weather conditions, types of climates, seasons, and many other facts that can be the full answer to the question “what is the weather and climate in Antarctica?”. Now, it’s time for us to start exploring everything about Antarctica's weather and climate. Here we go!
The climate of Antarctica, what type is it?
As mentioned in the introduction, Antarctica is a large continent. It’s larger than Europe, Australia, or even North America. That’s why this continent has several climate zones, including the Continental high plateau, Continental low plateau, continental high latitude coast, continental low latitude coast, Antarctic islands, Antarctic peninsula, and sub-Antarctic islands.
This continent has several climate zones
Whereas there is a fairly oceanic climate in the coastal parts of West Antarctica, the climate tends to be much colder in the central East of Antarctica. Generally speaking, the ice cap climate is the main type of climate in Antarctica. It is a subtype of polar climates and is considered the coldest of all types of climates in the world.
That’s about the types of climates in Antarctica. Keep reading on to know “what is the weather and climate in Antarctica like?”
Weather conditions and climate characteristics in Antarctica
Antarctica is not only the coldest but also the driest and windiest continent in the world. It has a climate of extremes. Let’s look at the details about temperatures, wind speeds, amount of rainfall, humidity, … in Antarctica to know how cold, how windy, how dry, … and how severe the weather here is!
To know “what is the weather and climate in Antarctica like?”, it’s good to check out its terribly cold temperatures first.
The temperature in the continent’s interior during the year is about -70.6°F (-57°C), on average. In winters, the average inland temperatures are between -76°F (-60°C) and -94°F (-70°C).
Antarctica is nothing but the coldest continent in the world
The coastal areas are warmer with higher temperatures that can reach a maximum of between -28.4°F (-2°C) and 48.4°F (8°C) during summers. In the winter months, the average temperatures along the coasts are much higher than the inland temperatures with -22°F (-30°C) to -4°F (-20°C).
With such bitterly cold temperatures, it’s not surprising that Antarctica is the world’s coldest continent. The lowest temperature ever recorded on Earth was -129.3°F (-89.6°C) at the research station Vostok, Russia, in eastern Antarctica in 1983.
Apart from global wind currents, well, Antarctica creates its very own wind systems. In fact, there’s a name for the type of wind in Antarctica: katabatic wind that often occurs in areas below 60°S in the continent. Also known as “fall winds,” these gravity-driven gusts push the high-density air masses downward from above high-altitude slopes to the coast.
What is the weather and climate in Antarctica like? - The katabatic winds in Antarctica
Most of this wind only reaches the speed of just around 18 kph (or 11mph), but over the enormous ice sheets of Antarctica where great concentrations of cold dense air build up over time and push downward roughly with considerable force. Well, when that kind of wind is funneled through narrower areas along the coast of the continent, for example, it can blow at speeds of hurricane.
Antarctica is famous for being the windiest place on Earth, with recordings of up to 320 kph (200 mph) being made.
- See also: Where is the driest place in the world?
Precipitation and Humidity
When it comes to “what is the weather and climate in Antarctica like?”, it is kind of a big mistake if we don’t consider its precipitation and humidity.
Most precipitation occurs in Antarctica in the form of snowfall, especially in winters. In the high-pressure area at Antarctica’s central part, precipitation falls only as a result of the cooling of the high-altitude air masses.
With annual precipitation of less than 50 millimeters, central Antarctica is something of an arid ice desert. This falls as tiny ice crystals, not as snow, and is known as “diamond dust.”
Areas closer to the coastal regions have more precipitation that can reach up to 600 millimeters per year. The heaviest snowfalls can be found on the Antarctica Peninsula’s western coast and rain commonly occurs in coastal areas in summers.
McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica is the driest place in the world
According to discoveringantarctica.org.uk, the relative humidity (RH) of air at the South Pole can be just as low as 0.03 percent. And most of the Antarctica continent technically qualifies as a desert on the basis of the mean precipitation per year.
Like mentioned before, there’s very little annual precipitation in the interior, the bitterly cold temperature, the occurrence of katabatic wind, …, that all make Antarctica the driest continent on the planet.
Do you know that the McMurdo Dry Valleys in Antarctica is the driest place in the world that receives 0 inches of precipitation per year and has almost no humidity available? More surprisingly, the Friis Hills in Taylor Valley, a part of McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica, haven’t received any water in … 14 million years.
Estimations of cloud cover in Antarctica have been quite problematic since the whole landscape is difficult to estimate. Cloud cover average in this continent may be 6/8 or 4/8; however, the reality is that it is either 0/8 or 8/8 (no cloud or total cloud).
Of course, coastal regions are always cloudier than continental areas. Also, continental clouds are often made totally of tiny ice crystals rather than the combination of ice and water vapor at the coast.
Seasons in Antarctica
Last but not least, it’s also necessary to check out facts about seasons when considering “what is the weather and climate in Antarctica like?”, right? There are two seasons in Antarctica: summer and winter.
Since it is located in the Southern Hemisphere, the summer here is from October to February. During the summertime, the sun is, well, almost always in the sky. Also in summers, days rapidly get longer even until the sun doesn’t set at all. And this phenomenon is also known as “the Midnight Sun.”
Out of 12 months of the year, January is the warmest month on this continent. During which, average temperatures might climb all the way up to 0 degrees Celsius in the Antarctica Peninsula.
What is the weather and climate in Antarctica like? - The Midnight Sun in Antarctica
The ice in Antarctica
The ice in Antarctica is 2.5 km (nearly 99,000 inches) thick. Roughly 99 percent of Antarctica’s area is covered by an ice sheet.
The Antarctic ice sheet covers an area of almost 5.4 million square miles (14 million square kilometers) and contains 5.4 million square miles (26.5 million cubic kilometers) of ice. About 61% of all freshwater on the planet is held in this ice sheet, an amount equivalent to 58 meters of sea-level rise, approximately.
A few mountain peaks in Antarctica may be seen above the ice sheet. And these are called Nunataks.
About 61% of all freshwater on the planet is held in Antarctica ice sheet
What is the weather and climate in Antarctica: Roundup
Antarctica is not only the coldest but also the windiest and driest continent on Earth. It’s so dry and has extremely little precipitation that most of the continent is technically considered a desert. Of course, there are always a lot of engrossing facts about Antarctica’s weather and climate. Recently, we have learned some of the most important of these, right? We hope you enjoyed this article: “What is the weather and climate in Antarctica?” and found it useful and interesting.
- See also: What is the weather like in the desert?