Atlantic. In North America the change is abrupt, and comes on crossing the lofty western mountain barrier. The curves in fig. 11 illustrate well the gradually increasing continentality of the climate with increasing distance inland in Eurasia.
The continental interiors of the north temperate zone have the greatest extremes in the world. Towards the Arctic circle the winters are extremely severe, and January mean temperatures of –10° and –20° occur over considerable areas. At the cold pole of north-eastern Siberia a January mean of –60° is found. Mean minimum temperatures of –40° occur in the area from eastern Russia, over Siberia and down to about latitude 50° N. Over no small part of Siberia minimum temperatures below –70° may be looked for every winter. Thorshavn and Yakutsk are excellent examples of the temperature differences along the same latitude line (see fig. 11). The winter in this interior region is dominated by a marked high pressure. The weather is prevailingly clear and calm. The ground is frozen all the year round below a slight depth over wide areas. The extremely low temperatures are most trying when the steppes are swept by icy storm winds (buran, purga), carrying loose snow, and often resulting in loss of life. In the North American interior the winter cold is somewhat less severe. North American winter weather in middle latitudes is often interrupted by cyclones, which, under the steep poleward temperature gradient then prevailing, cause frequent, marked and sudden changes in wind direction and temperature over the central and eastern United States. Cold waves and warm waves are common, and blizzards resemble the buran or purga of Russia and Siberia. With cold northerly winds, temperatures below freezing are carried far south towards the tropic.
The January mean temperatures in the southern portions of the continental interiors average about 50° or 60°. In summer the northern continental interiors are warm, with July means of 60° and thereabouts. These temperatures are not much higher than those on the west coasts, but as the northern interior winters are much colder than those on the coasts, the interior ranges are very large. Mean maximum temperatures of 86° occur beyond the Arctic circle in north-eastern Siberia, and beyond latitude 60° in North America. In spite of the extreme winter cold, agriculture extends remarkably far north in these regions, because of the warm, though short, summers, with favourable rainfall distribution. The summer heat is sufficient to thaw the upper surface of the frozen ground, and vegetation prospers for its short season. At this time great stretches of flat surface become swamps. The southern interiors have torrid heat in summer, temperatures of over 90° being recorded in the south-western United States and in southern Asia. In these districts the diurnal ranges of temperature are very large, often exceeding 40°, and the mean maxima exceed 110°.
The winter maximum rainfall of the west coasts becomes a summer maximum in the interiors. The change is gradual in Europe, as was the change in temperature, but more sudden in North America. The curves for central Europe and for northern Asia illustrate these continental summer rains (see fig. 12). The summer maximum becomes more marked with the increasing continental character of the climate. There is also a well-marked decrease in the amount of rainfall inland. In western Europe the rainfall averages 20 to 30 in., with much larger amounts (reaching 80–100 in. and even more) on the bold west coasts, as in the British Isles and Scandinavia, where the moist Atlantic winds are deflected upwards, and also locally on mountain ranges, as on the Alps. There are small rainfalls (below 20 in.) in eastern Scandinavia and on the Iberian peninsula. Eastern Europe has generally less than 20 in., western Siberia about 15 in., and eastern Siberia about 10 in. In the southern part of the great overgrown continent of Asia an extended region of steppes and deserts, too far from the sea to receive sufficient precipitation, shut in, furthermore, by mountains, controlled in summer by drying northerly winds, receives less than 10 in. a year, and in places less than 5 in. In this interior district of Asia population is inevitably small and suffers under a condition of hopeless aridity.
The North American interior has more favourable rainfall conditions than Asia, because the former continent is not overgrown. The heavy rainfalls on the western slopes of the Pacific coast mountains correspond, in a general way, with those on the west coast of Europe, although they are heavier (over 100 in. at a maximum). The close proximity of the mountains to the Pacific, however, involves a much more rapid decrease of rainfall inland than is the case in Europe, as may be seen by comparing the isohyetal lines in the two cases. A considerable interior region is left with deficient rainfall (less than 10 in.) in the south-west. The eastern portion of the continent is freely open to the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico, so that moist cyclonic winds have access, and rainfalls of over 20 in. are found everywhere east of the 100th meridian. These conditions are much more favourable than those in eastern Asia. The greater part of the interior of North America has the usual warm-season rains. In the interior basin, between the Rocky and Sierra Nevada mountains, the higher plateaus and mountains receive much more rain than the desert lowlands. Forests grow on the higher elevations, while irrigation is necessary for agriculture on the lowlands. The rainfall here comes largely from thunderstorms.
In South America the narrow Pacific slope has heavy rainfall (over 80 in.). East of the Andes the plains are dry (mostly less than 10 in.). The southern part of the continent is very narrow, and is open to the east, as well as more open to the west owing to the decreasing height of the mountains. Hence the rainfall increases somewhat to the south, coming in connexion with passing cyclones. Tasmania and New Zealand have most rain on their western slopes.
|Fig. 13.—Annual March of Cloudiness:|
Temperate Zones. E, Central Europe;
A, Eastern Asia; M, mountain.
In a typical continental climate the winter, except for radiation fogs, is very clear, and the summer the cloudiest season, as is well shown in the accompanying curve for eastern Asia (A, fig. 13). In a more moderate continental climate, such as that of central Europe (E, fig. 13), and much of the United States, the winter is the cloudiest season. In the first case the mean cloudiness is small; in the second there is a good deal of cloud all the year round.
East Coasts.—The prevailing winds carry the continental climates of the interiors off over the eastern coasts of the temperate zone lands, and even for some distance on to the adjacent oceans. The east coasts therefore have continental climates, with modifications resulting from the presence of the oceans to leeward, and are necessarily separated from the west coasts, with which they have little in common. On the west coasts of the north temperate lands the isotherms are far apart. On the east coasts they are crowded together. The east coasts share with the interiors large annual and cyclonic ranges of temperature. A glance at the isothermal maps of the world will show at once how favoured, because of its position to leeward of the warm North Atlantic waters, is western Europe as compared with eastern North America. A similar contrast, less marked, is seen in eastern Asia and western North America. In eastern Asia there is some protection, by the coast mountains, against the extreme cold of the interior, but in North America there is no such barrier, and severe cold winds sweep across the Atlantic coast states, even far to the south. Owing to the prevailing offshore winds, the oceans to leeward have relatively little effect.
As already noted, the rainfall increases from the interiors towards the east coasts. In North America the distribution through the year is very uniform, with some tendency to a summer maximum, as in the interior (N.A, fig. 12).
In eastern Asia the winters are relatively dry and clear, under
- i.e. lines drawn on a map to connect all places having an equal rainfall.