It only feels like we’re living in the Arctic

February 3, 2015


Jordan Smith
Zenith News

The world is divided into climatic zones, depending on factors such as rainfall patterns, winds, and sea surface temperature, among others. Over time, methods of classifying these zones have evolved, mostly based on the broad zones bounded by the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, and the Arctic and Antarctic Circles.

The band of Earth located between the Tropics, bisected by the equator, is referred to as the “low latitudes,” and the climates there are typically classified as tropical.

The two areas located between the Tropics and the Arctic/Antarctic Circles are referred to as the “middle latitudes,” and the climates there are typically classified as temperate. Each end of the planet, from pole to circle, lies within high latitudes and consists of polar climates.

Temperate climates are sometimes divided into maritime and continental zones to account for differences between coastal and inland areas. But this only goes so far, as other factors, such as deserts, mountains, and ocean currents, can add their own climates into the mix. While parts of Canada on at the same latitude as Scotland can be defined as polar, Scotland itself enjoys a temperate climate, due to the warming effect of the Gulf Stream.

Tropical zones. These are pretty much nonexistent outside the Tropic of Cancer (23.5 degrees north) and the Tropic of Capricorn (23.5 degrees south). They include parts of Central and South America as well as parts of Africa and Southeast Asia. These zones are characterized by lots of rainfall with short dry seasons, and consistently hot and humid conditions.

Subtropical zones. Often extending beyond the Tropics, these can be found more abundantly in all of the abovementioned regions, as well as the southeastern U.S., north and west Australia, much of India, and a fair portion of Japan. The temperature range is broader than tropical, and the wet and dry seasons are of similar length.

Arid zones. Consisting of minimal precipitation, with dramatic temperature fluctuations between day and night or summer and winter, the American Southwest boasts some arid zones. Asia, Australia, even parts of South America also have them, and much of northern Africa and the Middle East are dominated by such conditions.

Semi-arid zones. With conditions less extreme, semi-arid zones see more precipitation and less marked temperature fluctuations. Land extending from northern Mexico, encompassing much of the western U.S., and extending into Canada can be classified as semi-arid.

Mediterranean zones. Southern Europe as well as the northern coasts of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, and much of the coasts around the Black and Caspian Seas see hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters.

Temperate zones. Temperate zones, again located between the Tropics and Arctic/Antarctic Circles, boast of uniform rainfall , and four distinct seasons. Warm summers and cold, snowy winters are the norm.

Northern Temperate zones. Limited to the northern regions of our continent and Eurasia, these have similar traits to your basic temperate zone, but the cold seasons can last as much as nine months, and snowfall totals are generally much greater.

Mountain zones. Generally found among the world’s tallest mountains, temperatures are typically much lower than at similar latitudes. Snowfall is common in the mountains, and rainfall patterns are generally dependent on local rain-bearing winds.

Polar zones. Occupying all extremely northern regions, including all of Greenland and Antarctica, polar zones have extremely long cold seasons that only get slightly warmer during summer. Snow is common, but rainfall is unheard of. Land north of the Arctic Circle (66.5 degrees north), as well as south of the Antarctic Circle (66.5 degrees south) can be defined as polar.

Coastal zones. Basically anywhere in proximity to coasts, these zones have their own weather patterns that rely heavily on sea-surface temperatures. The temperature range is narrower than the nearby inland areas.

Even though the winter of 2013-14 seemed to be polar, our neck of the woods is, in fact, temperate. Temperate climates can be divided into maritime and continental zones. The former is greatly influenced by the oceans, whose temperatures fluctuate minimally year round. The latter can be found inland, and often sees hotter summers and colder winters as heat receipt and loss increases on the land away from coastlines.

In the northern hemisphere, the western coasts of continents can be defined as maritime, because the prevailing winds are westerly. In North America, the Rocky Mountains, which are laid out in a predominately north-south direction, act as a barrier to mild maritime air blowing to the west, while the same type of air penetrates further into Europe, as the large mountain range (the Alps) is in more of an east-west direction, forming less of a barrier.

In February, look for slightly below average temps with slightly above-average precipitation. As the month ends, watch out for a snowstorm, bringing cold air behind as March comes in like a lion.

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