1.6 Weather

The daydreaming is over. A strong factor in many travellers' plans is how to avoid winter weather, summer heat, and monsoons. Compounding the problem is the lack of reliable weather information, especially during unpredictable times, such as El Niño. Reported temperatures may be just the average for the day. You will rarely hear two people predict the monsoon season the same for any area, and you cannot assume that the weather is the same just because two places are near each other. One person's idea of 'comfortable' weather can be unbearable for another. Many travel books have charts and information, but there are also books specifically for weather. Don't try to fine-tune your exact schedule for the optimal weather in each place.

"One of the most commonly-overlooked climactic issues is that weather within what we may regard as "one place" or "one region" may vary enormously. In part, this is because what we think of as a "small" region may be geographically huge. People often ask me, "When is the rainy season in Southeast Asia?" (a region 5000km across, different parts of which are subject to weather patterns from the Indian and the Pacific Oceans, with rain at opposite times); or "What is the weather like in China at such-and-such a time of the year?", a question no easier to answer than, "What is the weather like in the USA?" (China is not only slightly larger than the USA, including Alaska, but is the only country in the world with as much or more geographical diversity as the USA. Northern Manchuria extends as far north as parts of Southest Alaska. Beijing is at the latitude of Philadelphia, Hong Kong as far south as Havana. East China gets enough rain year-round for paddy rice. Much of central China is semi-arid steppe. The low-altitude hot deserts of East Turkestan and the the high-altitude cold deserts of Tibet (both occupied and ruled by China) both make Nevada look wet and lush by comparison. Similar issues arise in other regions." <Edward Hasbrouck>

"Not everyone wants to avoid winter. We hit New Zealand in mid-winter and it was spectacular. And a great contrast to the previous two months on South Pacific islands in the sun. Monsoons, tropical rain storms and other unusual weather conditions just need to be taken into consideration as it may slow your progress, prevent you seeing certain sights etc; but to see places in only good weather is like assuming you will only ever see your wife with make up. It isn't natural and doesn't give you a true picture. Sure, be aware that there are times when trekking is difficult to impossible, and that roads may get washed away, or closed due to snow." <Chris Finlayson>

"We worried about the weather too, but that was plain not necessary. If you travel for a very long time (longer than six months), you will end up having bad weather some time, BUT since you will be going for so long it will all average out. In our case we ended up in the Southern Hemisphere in Winter, and a lot of people told us to avoid it. As it turned out we had the greatest time in New Zealand, since there were very few other tourists and travellers about. OK, the weather was rather wet and stormy for 3/4 of our time in New Zealand, but when it did get finally sunny (in Milford Sound of all places, with only an average of 21 sunny days a year), the bad weather was quickly forgotten! Yet we also heard that when it rains, you get these waterfalls that seem to fall out of heaven. So never mind the weather!! Experiencing a country in the off-season had its own rewards, just be prepared with the right clothing (which you can ALWAYS buy, as we did in New Zealand) and HAVE FUN! :-) Sometimes, because you do not have the right clothing with you, you end up buying your greatest gifts of the trip -- in our case this happened to be sheepskin boots from NZ, because we froze our little toes off." <Eberhard Brunner>

"It is probably worth (loosely) planning your route according to the seasons. I agree that off-season can be a boon but some places (esp. mountains) become impossible at the 'wrong' time of year. The Karakoram Highway closes (officially) between October and June, as does the road between Srinigar and Leh (Kashmir to Ladakh). You MIGHT get through off-season but there will be no regular transport and it will probably take MUCH longer. Travelling by truck in Africa (e.g. Tanzania) in the rainy season can mean a LOT of waiting around for trucks to be dug out of a quagmire of mud. Double/treble the time it takes to get anywhere. You are not going to be able to completely avoid rough weather, but if you are planning to take a beach break in Thailand in August or go trekking in Nepal in July, you will be dissapointed." <Nigel Gomm>

"Some places are impossible to reach or pass during some parts of the year. I read that going from Sudan to the Central African Republic is nearly impossible in the rainy season, since the ground becomes two feet of mud because of the rain. Another impassable part of the world is the road from Gilgit in northern Pakistan to Chitral in the western parts of northern Pakistan. That road is said to be open just a few months each year. Passing through western Sahara in northern hemisphere summer is also hard." <Mats Henricson>

A critical problem in South and Southeast Asia is that the weather is pretty awful from March through to October -- the heat and then the monsoons are tolerable and interesting, but can really slow you down. Indonesia, northern Pakistan, and northern China are good places to wait it out.

"A common mistake to avoid is believing that the greatest heat is in the South of India. Because of the cooling effect of the rains during June-August, the Northern Plains are *hotter* April-June, than anywhere in the South during the year. South India is so equatorial as to experience little seasonal variation in temperature." <Edward Hasbrouck>

"The typical traveller arriving in fall or winter heads first for the South (thus missing the pleasant cool, and the post-monsoon reduction in dustiness, in the North). Then they move North at the end of the winter, just when it is starting to get really hot and dusty. As a result, many people deliberately schedule Agra in April or May. They find it intolerable, and cut their stay in India short. (I've heard from many clients revising their dates or routing, or trying to do so, because of just such scheduling choices.) They would have been better off going to the North in fall/winter, starting South out of the plains around March/April. Not that April-June is the best time to be anywhere in South Asia, rather IF you are in the region at that time, the South is less intolerably hot and dusty. It makes more of a difference when you are in the North, so it makes more sense to make avoiding the Northern-Plains heat your priority." <Edward Hasbrouck>

"The only reason to go north in summer, and the only part of the north most travellers would find tolerable then, is at significant elevations into the mountains. (The British moved their capital and entire colonial ruling administration out of Delhi every March or April to Simla, in the mountains, until September.)" <Edward Hasbrouck>

"Thus, (1) *IF* one is in South Asia during April-June, better (in terms of weather) to spend those months in the South than the North, and (2) if one has limited cool-weather time (October-March) in South Asia, better (again, strictly in terms of weather) to spend that time in the North, where the season makes more difference. If you are spending a year in India, the best plan is to spend April-September either in the south or in the Himalayas, and October-March in the central and northern lowlands." <Edward Hasbrouck>


If you would like to plan around the weather, here are some sample routes (from the infinite variations) for a one-year trip:

August - September
Western Indonesia (rain starts in Oct)
Japan-HK-Bangkok, Japan-Taiwan-KL, Seoul-HK-Bangkok, KL-HK, or Singapore-Bangkok-HK due to the cheap Malaysia and Korean Air tickets. You are responsible for getting to and from Indonesia overland on these, but there is probably a loop through Bali from the US by one or two carriers.

October - November
Eastern Indonesia (dry September-March, but may be wet in places). New Zealand is good November to maybe April, if you go that way instead. Think of Indonesia as five countries since it is so large, and keep in mind that your visa is only valid for one month for such an interesting place, so you may have to leave and re-enter.

November - February
Thailand and southern India are good.

March
Go to Nepal for a month, from HK, Bangkok, or southern India.

April
India -- Varanasi, Khajuraho (fly if you can afford it), Orchha (a must), Agra (go for sunrise and sunset), Amritsar and Dharamsala (if you have time to spare), Udaipur, and Bombay (Ellora and Ajanta side-trip). There is a small sacrifice here since the north can be hot and dusty in April. The south is totally different than this classical northern route. The weather in the south is equatorial, however the best time to see the south is December through February.

Late-April
Winter in Africa is starting, but won't really affect your travel, however Africa could be saved for later, after having been in Asia. Head to Egypt and go overland to Turkey, or just fly directly to Turkey or Israel. RTW tickets may route you through London to get to Turkey.

May - June
Turkey and Greece.

July and/or August
Round-trip flights from London to Africa are very cheap, but this may not be the best time of year to go there. Same for S. America. London is also the place where many people do a U-turn for Indonesia or Bangkok!


Opposite Direction:
Europe (anywhere between Apr and Aug)
Greece & Turkey (Sep-Oct)
Jordan, Egypt, Israel (Sep-Nov)
Southern Africa (Sep-Feb)
Optional - Nepal and N. India (Oct-Dec)
Southern India (Dec-Mar)
SE Asia (Nov-Feb)
Indonesia (Mar-Oct)
US (check the weather)


My ideal trip is a three-year route that can start anywhere at anytime along this list:

May-Oct US
Oct-Feb S. America, S. Pacific
Feb-Mar New Zealand
April Australia to dive the GBR
May-Oct Indonesia
Oct-Feb Malaysia, Thailand
Mar-Apr Nepal or China
May-Jul Pakistan
Aug-Sep N. India
Oct-Nov Central India or Nepal
Dec-Mar Central and Southern India, and/or SE Africa
Mar-Apr Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Syria
Apr-May Turkey
Jun Greece
Jul-Aug N. Europe
Sep-Oct S. Europe, Morocco
Oct-Mar SE Africa or S. America



Books

"International Traveler's Weather Guide" by Tom Loffman

"The Traveler's Almanac: Planning Your Vacation Around the Weather" by Harold Bernard (1987).

"World Traveller: What's the Climate? What to Wear?" by Edward Dickson (1989)

"The Times Books World Weather Guide" by E.A. Pearce & C.J. Smith.


Links

Historical Weather Database at The Washington Post
Intellicast Global Climate Guide
Lonely Planet Country Information
Weather.com
World Climate
WeatherBase
Columbus Guides' World Travel Guide
Weather2Travel's Climate Guide & Holiday Planner


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