Map from Google - Canada
This vast country is largely characterized by freezing winters
: the latitude, the continentality and the position of the mountain ranges contribute to make it one of the coldest countries on Earth.
The distribution of the population (the largest cities are located all along the southern part of the country) and its scarcity (although Canada is one of the world's largest countries, its population is around 35 million people) show how hard the environmental conditions are in much of the country, mainly because of the cold climate.
Nevertheless, during the short summer
there may be some hot days, especially in southern inland areas.
The only area where in winter the average temperature exceeds the freezing point (32 degrees Fahrenheit or zero degrees Celsius) is the coast of British Columbia
(see Vancouver), where the climate is oceanic, cool and rainy.
The Rocky Mountains
generally block the flow of mild Pacific air masses, while there are no topographic barriers that could block cold waves coming from the North Pole, so that, apart from the west coast, the rest of the country experiences freezing winters.
The Atlantic coast (see Nova Scotia, Newfoundland) is much colder than the pacific, both because the prevailing winds are the westerlies (which come from the inland territory), and because along the Atlantic coast a cold current flows, the Labrador Current.
So, the temperature of the ocean near Halifax is 1 °C from January to April, while on the coast near Vancouver, it does not drop below 8 °C in February.
The vast Arctic and subarctic regions
, from the northern islands down to the Hudson Bay, experience only two seasons: a long winter, with night temperatures normally around -30/-35 °C, and a summer that lasts three months, during which the temperature is around freezing or just above: in the arctic areas the temperature hovers around freezing or rises a few degrees above, while in subarctic areas it rises above, but it remains on average below 10 °C.
Here are the average temperatures of Alert, in the far north (Nunavut, at a latitude of 82 ° N, near Greenland). Here, only 155 millimetres of rain or snow per year fall.
Average temperatures - Alert
In Canada, the subarctic climate zone extends down to a relatively low latitude: on the shores of the Hudson Bay you can find tundra vegetation even around the 60th parallel, while in Europe at the same latitude, there are big cities like Stockholm and Oslo.
Here are the average temperature of Churchill, Manitoba, located at a latitude of 58° north, in the Hudson Bay.
Average temperatures - Churchill
In Churchill, precipitation is not abundant, since it amounts to 455 mm per year; the rainiest season is summer, while in winter snowfalls are frequent, but not abundant. Here is the average precipitation.
Average precipitation - Churchill
The Hudson Bay is frozen solid from December to April, while in May, June and November it may be more or less frozen depending on the year. Recall that the sea, being salty, freezes at about -2 °C.
Sea temperature - Churchill
In the northwest region, in Yukon
and Northwest Territories
, the climate is strongly continental, with a long, cold winter and an intense summer, during which the daytime temperature can sometimes reach 30 °C. Summer nights, however, remain cool. Of course, this applies to valleys and hilly areas: high mountains remain obviously cold even in summer.
Here are the average temperatures of Inuvik, located in the Northwest Territories, at a latitude of 68 ° N, not far from the coast of the Beaufort Sea. Here the coldest record is -57 °C.
Average temperatures - Inuvik
Precipitation in this area is not abundant, and remains generally below 500 millimetres per year.
Here is the average precipitation in Inuvik, where just 250 mm per year fall.
Average precipitation - Inuvik
During winter, in this northwestern region the lowest temperature in North America has been recorded: on February 3, 1947 in Snag, almost 600 metres above sea level, on the border with Alaska, the temperature dropped to -63 °C. Cold waves like this occur due to the proximity to Siberia: when a high pressure area moves over the Pacific Ocean, a "train" of cold air (which in North America is called the "Siberian Express") flows from eastern Siberia, and sometimes reach the mid-west regions of the United States as well. In Snag, however, the average temperature in January is -27.5 °C, and in July it rises to 13.5 °C, with an average maximum of 20 °C.
In the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia and Alberta, the climate varies according to altitude and slope exposure.
The western slopes have a very humid and relatively mild climate, with precipitation exceeding 2,000 millimetres per year; precipitation decreases rapidly in inland areas and on the eastern slopes, where it drops below 500 mm per year, and the climate becomes continental, with very cold winters: in Calgary
, at 1,000 metres above sea level, the average temperature in January is -9 °C, while in Edmonton
, at 670 metres, it's -11.5 °C. Summers are mild, with cool nights (lows are around 7/10 °C), while the days are pleasant (the maximum temperatures swing around 20/23 °C), but there may some hot days, during which the temperature can go up to around 30 °C.
Average temperatures - Calgary
In Calgary, precipitation amounts to 425 mm per year, with a minimum in winter, when snowfalls are quite frequent but light, and a peak in summer.
Here is the average precipitation.
Average precipitation - Calgary
During the cold months, in valleys and slopes facing east, the terrible Blizzard
often blows from the north, but sometimes a totally different wind, the warm and dry Chinook
, which is similar to the Föhn of the Alps but more intense, can raise the temperature of tens of degrees, so that the snow can quickly evaporate (or better, sublimate). The Chinook causes such spectacular changes in temperatures, because of the considerable heating due to compression (the wind descends from very high mountains) but also to the different air mass origin (which is much milder because it comes from the Pacific Ocean). While the Chinook blows at the foot of the mountains, the Blizzard is a typical wind of the vast prairies and plains of Canada.
On the Pacific coast
, the climate is oceanic, with relatively mild but rainy winters (usually the temperature is above freezing, even though almost every year there can be a few days with frost and snow), and cool summers, which can experience some rainfall, but are fairly sunny too. Vancouver
is the only major city in Canada which is not frosty: its average temperature is 4 °C in January, and 18 °C in July, and its climate is more similar to London than those of Northern Europe cities, even though its summer is sunnier than that of London.
Average temperatures - Vancouver
The sea in Vancouver and along the coast of British Columbia is always cold, as you can see in the following table.
Sea temperature - Vancouver
On the Midwest
plains, from the southern part of the Northwest Territories (see Fort Smith) to the central and southern plains of Saskatchewan and Manitoba (see Winnipeg, Regina), the climate is strongly continental, with long and cold winters and short summers, when the days are warm and nights remain cool, but during which there may also be hot days. In Regina
, the average temperature is -16 °C in January and 19 °C in July.
Average temperatures - Regina
The continentality is so strong that in the same place, the temperature can drop below -40 °C in winter, and reach 40 °C in summer.
Precipitation is not abundant: west of Winnipeg it's less than 500 mm per year, the majority of which occurs during the summer, and sometimes this region may experience periods of drought.
In winter, the blizzard brings terrifying snow storms.
Here is the average precipitation in Regina.
Average precipitation - Regina
In the Great Lakes region, in the plains of central and southern Ontario and Quebec, the climate is still continental but it becomes also humid, with rainfall around 1,000 mm per year, well distributed throughout the year.
After a freezing winter, characterized by dry and sunny days alternating with others dominated by bad weather and snowfall, a late and very cool spring comes, and then a quite short summer, during which rainy and cool days alternate with hot sunny days, with possible thunderstorms during the afternoon.
, which is located at the latitude of southern France, winter temperatures are similar to those of Moscow, Russia, with an average in January of -10.5 °C, while summers are warm, with an average temperature of 20.5 °C in July.
Average temperatures - Montreal
In Montreal, 1,000 mm of rain or snow per year fall, and there's no dry season. Here is the average precipitation.
Average precipitation - Montreal
, Ontario, winter is less cold: the average in January is -5.5 °C, but the temperature drops below -20 °C for a few days almost every year. Summer in Toronto is similar to Montreal, and even warmer: usually days are warm, and sometimes even hot, with some chance of thunderstorms, but there can be cool and rainy days as well.
Here are the average temperatures.
Average temperatures - Toronto
Lake Ontario is very cold in winter, while in summer it becomes almost acceptable for swimming, at least for those who do not suffer from the cold, especially in August, when it reaches 21 °C.
Lake temperature - Toronto
During winter, in the Great Lakes Region, cold air masses from the north-west pick up moisture passing over the Great Lakes, and then collide with warmer air masses coming from the United States, therefore, in this area there are often waves of bad weather and heavy snowfall.
In the southern part of Ontario, which is also the southernmost part of the country, during the summer, sometimes hot and muggy days occur, when the area is reached by hot air masses from the inland areas of the United States: in these cases, the temperature can rise up to 40 °C.
The east coast
(see Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador) has a humid climate, cold and snowy in winter, mild and rainy in summer.
Average temperatures - Halifax
In Halifax, precipitation is abundant, since it amounts to 1,450 mm per year, in fact in all seasons disturbances pass, due to continuous clashes of air masses. Here is the average precipitation.
Average precipitation - Halifax
On the south coast of Nova Scotia, the sea does not freeze in winter, except in the most closed and sheltered bays. In summer, the sea is very cool, if not cold.
Sea temperature - Halifax
The eastern and northern coasts of Newfoundland are cool or even cold still in summer, because of the direct influence of the Labrador Current. Here the climate is similar to that of the Sakhalin Island and the coast of the Sea of Okhotsk in the Russian Far East, and in summer it's cold and foggy. The clash between the cold sea current and the warmer current flowing to the east and coming from the tropical latitudes of the Atlantic, generates frequent and dense fogs. For this reason, the area of the Grand Banks is the foggiest place on Earth.
When to go
The best time to visit southern and central Canada, where the major cities are located, goes from late summer to early autumn
(i.e. from late August to late September): this way you can avoid the climate extremes (both the cold winter and the possibly hot days in summer), you will find fewer mosquitoes (which in summer sweep across much of the country), and you can enjoy a quiet and often sunny weather (the so-called Indian summer, which sometimes lasts until October).
In addition, on late September you can admire the spectacular colours of the forests of maples and other species.
Even the period from late spring to early summer
, i.e. late May to late June, may be good.
The warmest period
(July-August) is not totally to be avoided, although sometimes it can be hot, with some afternoon thunderstorm as well.
The worst period, along with winter (December to February), is perhaps that of the thaw, which varies depending on the year and the area, starting from April in central and southern Canada: the melting snow turns into mud and travelling becomes difficult, at least outside the cities.
In the northern regions, summer is the only period during which the temperature rises above the melting point, but moving may be easier when all the land is frozen. At high latitudes, you can see the white nights in June, while beyond the Arctic Circle the sun never sets for a longer or shorter period, depending on latitude. At Easter, the vast northern territories are still frozen, but the days are already long enough. In winter, especially in December, the length of the day is very short.
What to pack
In winter: cold weather clothing, synthetic thermal long underwear, fleece, parka, wind jacket, warm boots; T-shirts and light shirts for warm indoor environments. For the Vancouver area and the west coast, warm clothes, coat, raincoat or umbrella.
In summer: in major cities, light clothing, T-shirts for hot days, jacket and sweater for the evening and cooler days, raincoat or umbrella. For the Arctic region and mountains, and for hiking in northern seas and glaciers: warm jacket and warm clothes, raincoat.