The Arctic climate can vary greatly as it depends on topography, elevation, proximity to the sea, and elevation. Despite those factors, the wealth of the Arctic shares some polar characteristics such as limited solar energy during the summer due to high latitudes.
While you’ll often see the polar climates divided into two large groups, those belonging to the ice caps and those belonging to the tundra, it’s more helpful to divide them up as polar maritime climates. As such, classifications include:
- The maritime Arctic including the northern Arctic islands and the contiguous coasts of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, where the snowfall is high while the winter temperatures are incredibly low.
- The polar continental climates in Canada, northern Alaska and Siberia where the snowfall is light and winters are extremely cold.
- Included in this classification is the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, whose climate is buffered during the winter by its thick sea ice.
- Transitional zones such as the polar basin, subarctic climates, the southern region of the tree line and the limited regions of ice climates (such as Greenland).
In the polar continental climates, winter hits early in the far north—around the end of August—and around the end of September south toward the tree line. Temperatures drop rapidly from August to December, evening out from January-March with average temperatures reaching around −30 to -20 °F in the North American Arctic and -35 °C in the central Siberian Arctic. For the most part, the polar continental climate remains relatively calm during the winter, with long stretches of low snowfall and clear skies.
In contrast, summer temperatures remain more consistent across the whole of the Arctic. In the polar continental climates, central continental regions generally experience calm weather and long periods of sunshine concluding in thunderstorms.
In the maritime Arctic, winter brings in long periods of strong winds, heavy precipitation and storminess despite its moderate temperatures. During the summer, the weather remains somewhat cool, with prominent fog and low-lying clouds.
In the subarctic, south of the tree line, there’s a significant difference between the continental regions (found in Alaska, the interior Yukon and the Mackenzie Basin) and the oceanic regions (such as northern Russia, northern Scandinavia and northern Quebec-Labrador). While the continental regions experience high precipitation and temperatures during the summer, the oceanic regions experience lower summer temperatures and higher precipitation in the fall.
The polar basin and its central polar ocean have winter conditions comparable to northern Alaska or northeastern Siberia while summer temperatures can rise over 34 °F—usually accompanied by continuous fog.
FUN FACT: In the Arctic, it’s much better to assess temperatures by windchill, which usually at its chilliest north of Hudson Bay where low air temperatures combine with strong northwest winds