Weather and Climate in China

The climate in China differs from region to region because of the country’s highly complex topography. The territory of China lies between latitudes 18° and 54° N, and longitudes 73° and 135° E. Its climate is mainly dominated by dry seasons and wet monsoons, which lead to pronounced temperature differences between winter and summer. It has a varied terrain ranging from high plateaux in the west to flatlands in the east; mountains take up almost one-third of the land. 

Features of China Climate

Complex and Varied Climate

The Chinese climate varies from region to region due to its extreme size. The great distance difference from the sea, the different topography, terrain types and mountain ranges results in a great variety of temperature and precipitation, therefore the varied climate is formed. 

In terms of climate types, the eastern part of China has a monsoon climate (which can be divided into subtropical monsoon climate, temperate monsoon climate and tropical monsoon climate), the northwestern part has a temperate continental climate, and the Qinghai-Tibet plateau has an alpine climate. From the temperature zone division, there are tropical, subtropical, temperature, temperate, and alpine-cold zone. From the perspective of dry and wet regions, there are wet regions, semi-humid regions, semi-arid regions and arid regions. And at the same temperature zone, it contains different dry & wet regions; and in the same wet & dry region, there are different temperature zones. Therefore, in the same climate, there will be differences in the degree of heat and humidity. The complex and diverse topography also makes the climate more complex and diverse.

Distinctive Monsoon & Continental Climate

China’s climate is characterized by high temperature and plenty of rain in summer, cold and dry in winter, with hot days consistent with rainy period. China is located in the east of the world’s largest continent – Eurasia, on the west coast of the world’s largest ocean – Pacific Ocean, and close to the Indian Ocean in the southwest, so its climate is significantly affected by the continents and oceans. Northerly winds blowing from the mainland to the sea prevail in winter, and southerly winds blowing from the sea to the land prevail in summer. The winter wind is cold and dry in the interior of Asia. Under its influence, there is less precipitation and lower temperature in most areas of China in winter, especially in the north. 

The summer monsoon comes from the Pacific Ocean to the southeast and the Indian Ocean to the southwest. It is warm and humid in nature. China is widely affected by the alternation of winter and summer monsoon, which is the most typical monsoon and the most significant monsoon climate in the world. Compared with other regions at the same latitude of the world, China has a continental climate characterized by low winter temperature, high summer temperature, large annual temperature difference and concentrated precipitation in summer. Therefore, China’s monsoon climate, a strong continental, also known as the continental monsoon climate.

Temperature and Temperature Zones

Distribution of Winter Temperatures

0℃ isotherm crosses the Huaihe river, Qinling mountain and the southeast edge of the Tibetan plateau. At the north of the line (including the north and northwest inland and Tibetan plateau), the temperatures is under 0 ℃, and the temperature of Mohe(Heilongjiang) is – 30 ℃. At the south of the line, the temperature is above 0 ℃, and the temperature of Sanya(Hainan) is 20℃. Therefore, it is warm in the south and cold in the north, and large temperature difference between the north and the south are the distribution characteristics of winter temperature in China.

The causes of this feature are the influence of latitude and the winter winds. Due to the winter sun shines directly in the southern hemisphere, while most of China is in the north temperate zone with less solar radiation. At the same time, China’s north and south latitude vary by 50 ℃, and the sun height difference of the northern and southern is significant, therefore, it leads to the low temperatures in most parts of the north, and the temperature difference is big. In winter, cold and dry winter winds often blow in from Mongolia and Siberia, and the northern regions bear the brunt, thus exacerbating the cold in the north and increasing the temperature difference between the north and the south.

Distribution of Summer Temperatures

In addition to the terrain of the Tibetan plateau and Tianshan mountains, most regions in China are more than 20 ℃, and many parts of the south are more than 28 ℃. The average temperature of Turpan Basin in July is up to 2 ℃. Therefore, except for the high-lying areas such as the Qinghai-Tibet plateau, China is generally characterized by high temperature, and the temperature difference between the north and the south is not big, which is the feature of China’s summer temperature distribution. The reason is that the direct sunlight in summer is in the northern hemisphere, and the solar thermal gain is generally increased in all parts of China. In addition, due to the high latitude in the north, the days are longer, so the amount of light and heat is relatively increased, which shortens the temperature gap with the south, so China is generally hot.

China’s Temperature Zones

China’s temperature zones are divided by the accumulated temperature. The accumulated temperature of an area reflects the heat condition of the area. According to the distribution of accumulated temperature, China is divided into five temperature zones and a special Qinghai-Tibet plateau.

Temperature Zone Accumulated Temperature Distribution
 Tropical Monsoon Zone  >8000℃  Hainan, the south of Yunnan, Guangdong, Taiwan
 Subtropical Monsoon Zone  4500℃—8000℃  the south of Qinling Mountain and Huaihe River and the east of Qinghai-Tibet plateau
 Temperature Monsoon Zone  3400℃—4500℃  Most of the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River and southern Xinjiang
 Temperate Continental Zone  1600℃—3400℃  Northeast China, most of Inner Mongolia and northern Xinjiang
 Alpine-cold Zone  <1600℃  North Heilongjiang and northeast Inner Mongolia
Qinghai-Tibet Plateau <2000℃ Qinghai-Tibet plateau

Precipitation and Wet & Dry Regions

The Spatial Distribution of Annual Precipitation

China’s annual precipitation spatial distribution declines from the southeast coast to the northwest inland. There are more in coastal areas than in inland areas, more in northern areas than in southern areas, more in mountainous areas than in plains, and more in windward slopes with warm and humid air than in leeward slopes in mountainous areas.

The 800 mm equipluve is in the line of Qinling Mountain-Huaihe River-southeast edge of Qinghai-Tibet plateau; the 400 equipluve is in the line of Daxinganling-Zhangjiakou-Lanzhou-Lhasa-the southeast of the Himalayas. The annual precipitation in the Tarim basin is less than 50mm, and some areas on its southern edge receive less than 20mm. The average annual rainfall of Toksun in the Turpan basin is only 5.9 mm, making it China’s “dry pole”. In some areas of southeast China, the precipitation is more than 1600 mm, and in the mountains of eastern Taiwan, it can reach more than 3000 mm. In the northeast of Taiwan, the average annual precipitation is more than 6000 mm, and the highest is 8408 mm, which is the “rainy pole” of China.

The Temporal Change of Precipitation

The temporal change of precipitation in China is reflected in two aspects, namely, seasonal change and interannual change. Seasonal variation is the distribution of precipitation over a year. The seasonal distribution characteristics of precipitation in China are as follows: the rainy season starts early, ends late, and lasts long in southern China concentrating from May to October. The rainy season in the north starts late, ends early, and is short, concentrating in July and August. Most parts of China have more rain in summer and autumn and less in winter and spring. Interannual variation is the distribution of precipitation from year to year. The interannual change of precipitation in most areas of China is large, generally, the interannual change in rain-prone areas is small, and the interannual change in rain-less areas is large. The interannual variation is less in coastal areas and greater in inland areas. It is greatest in inland basin.

Monsoon Activities and Monsoon Zone

The spatial distribution and temporal variation of precipitation in China are mainly due to the influence of monsoon activities. The southeast monsoon originating from the tropical sea surface in the western Pacific Ocean and the southwest monsoon in the equatorial Indian Ocean blow warm and humid air to the Chinese mainland, becoming the main source of water vapor for China’s summer precipitation.

In the years with normal summer monsoon activity, the warm and humid summer monsoon in April and May pushes to Nanling and its south areas every year. Guangdong, Guangxi, Hainan and other provinces and regions enter the rainy season with increased precipitation.

In June, the summer monsoon pushes into the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze river, and the vast area of the south of the Qinling Mountain-Huaihe river enter the rainy season. At this time, the Jianghuai area goes into its “Meiyu Season” because it is the season of ripe plum. Mei means plum in Chinese, and Yu means rain, so Meiyu means continuous rain in the season of ripe plum.

In July and August, the summer monsoon pushes to the north of Qinling-Huaihe river. The east China and northeast China enter the rainy season, and the precipitation increases significantly. In September, the cold air in the north becomes stronger. It pushes the warm and wet summer monsoon southward and ends the rainy season in the north. In October, the summer monsoon recedes from the Chinese mainland, ending the rainy season in the south.

In the area to the west and north of the connection line between the Daxinganling-Yinshan mountains-Helan mountains-Bayan Har Mountan-Kailash, the summer monsoon is very difficult to reach and the precipitation is very low. Traditionally, we call the area that the summer monsoon can control as the monsoon area, and the area that the summer monsoon forces cannot reach as the non-monsoon area.

China Wet & Dry Regions

The dry and wet condition is one of the signs reflecting the climate characteristics. The dry and wet degree of a place is determined by the contrast relationship between precipitation and evaporation. If the precipitation is greater than the evaporation, the region will be humid, while if the precipitation is less than the evaporation, the region will be dry. The dry and wet conditions are closely related to the types of natural vegetation and agriculture. The dry and wet conditions vary greatly in different parts of China, which can be divided into four dry and wet areas: humid area, semi-humid area, semi-arid area and arid area.

 Regions  Annual Precipitation  Dry & wet conditions  Distribution
 Humid Area  >800  precipitation>evaporation the south of Qinling-Huaihe River, the south of Qinghai-Tibet plateau, the northeast of Inner Mongolia, and the east of northeast three provinces
 Semi-humid Area  >400  precipitation>evaporation the Northeast Plain, North China Plain, most of Loess Plateau, Southeast of Qinghai-Tibet plateau
 Semi-arid Area  <400  precipitation<evaporation Part of Inner Mongolia and Loess Plateau, most of Qinghai-Tibet plateau
 Arid Area  <800  precipitation<evaporation Xinjiang, West of Inner Mongolia Plateau, northwest of  Qinghai-Tibet plateau

Best Time to Visit

Being located entirely in the northern hemisphere means its seasonal timings are broadly comparable to those in Europe and the US. The weather in China is best in spring and autumn, from March to April and from September to October, when temperatures are pleasant and rainfall is low, which is generally seen as an optimum time to visit. In Spring, temperatures are warming up, but not yet so hot. Chinese spring is rich in holidays such as Women’s Day, Workers’ Day, Qingming Festival, etc. In Autumn there is plenty of sunshine, temperatures are cooler. The most important festival in autumn for Chinese people is National Day and Mid-Autumn Festival.

Summer is a bit hot, which is suitable for activities like bamboo rafting and canoe rafting and other activities such as visiting water towns, playing at the beach, climbing mountain, etc. However, there are some summer resorts in China which have a cool and pleasant season like some places in Yunnan, Guizhou, West Sichuan, and Tibet. Dragon Boat Festival is the national festival celebrated by all Chinese.

Winter is cold, which is suitable for activities like skiing in the outdoor and see the frozen world in some cities like Harbin, Jilin, and Xinjiang. Meanwhile, if you want to avoid the cold air, there is a province in China called Yunnan that has the perpetual spring, where you can enjoy the bright sunshine. Hainan Island is also a warm place for winter. Spring Festival and Lantern Festival are widely celebrated in the winter days.

If arriving in winter, heavyweight clothing and boots are recommended to cope with what can be extreme cold. Likewise, lightweight clothing should be packed for a visit at the height of summer.

Read more about Best Time to Visit China.

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