The harsh climate prevalent in most of Russia reflects its high latitude and the absence of moderating maritime influences. Winters are generally long and very cold; and summers are short with temperatures ranging from hot to relatively cool. The high mountains running along the country’s southern boundary largely prevent the penetration of maritime tropical air masses from the south. In the north, the Arctic Ocean is frozen right up to the coast during the long winter, preventing the ameliorating influence of relatively warm ocean waters. Because Russia lies in the northern hemisphere’s westerly wind belt, warm influences from the Pacific Ocean do not reach far inland in the east. This is particularly true in winter, when a large, cold, high-pressure cell, centred over Mongolia, spreads over much of Siberia and Far Eastern Russia.
The primary marine influence thus comes from the Atlantic Ocean in the west. However, by the time Atlantic air reaches Russia it has crossed the entire western part of Europe and undergone considerable modification. It penetrates most easily during summer, when a low-pressure system exists over much of the country; this warm, moist Atlantic air may push east well into central Siberia. Because this is the principal moisture-bearing air mass to reach Russia, most of the territory receives a fairly pronounced summer maximum of precipitation.
This is fortunate for agriculture, because in most of the better farming areas the moisture supply is limited. In a number of areas, however, the distribution of summer rainfall is not advantageous—the early summer is often subject to drought, while the middle and late summer months may bring considerable rain and clouds that interfere with the harvest. This is particularly true in Far Eastern Russia, where a monsoonal inflow of Pacific air occurs during middle and late summer. In northern regions, especially from Moscow northward, featureless, overcast skies are so common, particularly during winter, that the Russians have a special name for the phenomenon: pasmurno, which may be translated as “dull, overcast, dreary weather”. Despite the overcast skies, annual precipitation in most of the country is only light to modest. This is because much of the time the air is cool, so its capacity to hold water vapour is low. Across the European Plain, average annual precipitation decreases from more than 800 mm (31 in) in the west, to less than 400 mm (15y in) along the Caspian Sea coast. Throughout Siberia and Far Eastern Russia, annual precipitation ranges generally between 508 and 813 mm (20 and 32 in); in higher elevations annual totals may reach 1,016 mm (40 in) or more, although intermontane basins may receive less than 305 mm (12 in).
Because the climate of Russia is largely continental in type, it is characterized by temperature extremes. The coldest winter temperatures occur in eastern Siberia; air from the Atlantic Ocean tempers conditions somewhat in the west. Verkhoyansk in north-eastern Siberia is often called the “cold pole of the world”. During January, temperatures average -48.9° C (-56° F) and have reached a minimum of -67.8° C (-90° F). Absolute temperatures during winter are higher along the Arctic and, especially, the Pacific coasts; Vladivostok, for example, on the Pacific coast averages a relatively mild -14.4° C (6° F) in January; the July average is 18.3° C (65° F). However, the winds in these regions are strong, and wind-chill factors below -50° C (-58° F) have been recorded along portions of the Arctic coast. The same conditions that make for extremely cold temperatures during winter in the far north-east—isolation from the sea and narrow valleys between mountains—restrict air movement during the summer.
This allows for strong heating under nearly continuous daylight at these high latitudes. During July, temperatures in Verkhoyansk average 15° C (59° F) and have reached as high as 35° C (95° F). The city has an absolute temperature range of 102.8° C (185° F), by far the greatest on Earth. Russia encompasses a number of distinct climatic zones, which generally extend across the country in east-west belts. Along the Arctic coast a polar climate prevails, extending inland in the far east on upper mountain slopes. To the south of this zone is a broad belt of subarctic climate; in the west it reaches almost as far south as the city of St Petersburg, broadening east of the Urals to cover almost all of Siberia and Far Eastern Russia. Most of European Russia is characterized by a more humid-temperate continental climate. This belt is widest in the west; it stretches from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, then tapers eastward to include a narrow strip of the southern West Siberian Lowland. Temperate conditions are also found in the extreme south-eastern portion of Far Eastern Russia, including Vladivostok. Moscow, which lies in the temperate continental climate zone, has average temperatures of -9.4° C (15° F) in January and 18.9° C (66° F) in July. St Petersburg, which is subject to the moderating influences of the Baltic Sea, averages -8.3° C (17° F) in January and 17.8° C (64° F) in July.
A broad belt of drier steppe climate with cold winters and hot summers begins along the Black Sea coast and extends north-eastward across the lower Volga region, the southern Urals, and the southern part of western Siberia. It continues eastward in isolated mountain basins along the extreme fringes of Siberia and Far Eastern Russia, and in the northern Caucasian Plain. © "Russia" © Emmanuel Buchot y Encarta
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