The climate of Norway

Here is an overview of Norway's climate; the seasons, air temperature and precipitation.

 

With its northern location, Norway is often regarded as a cold and wet country. In some aspects this is true, because we share the same latitude as Alaska, Greenland and Siberia. But compared to these areas we have a pleasant climate. Thanks to its location in the westerlies, on the east side of a vast ocean, with a huge, warm and steady ocean current near its shores, Norway has a much friendlier climate than the latitude indicates. 

Great variation

Autumn in Lyngen, Troms. Foto: Ketil Isaksen/met.no.

Norway's climate shows great variations. From its southernmost point, Lindesnes, to its northernmost, North Cape, there is a span of 13 degrees of latitude, or the same as from Lindesnes to the Mediterranean Sea. Furthermore we have great variations in received solar energy during the year.

The largest differences we find in Northern Norway, having midnight sun in the summer months and no sunshine at all during winter.

The rugged topography of Norway is one of the main reasons for large local differences over short distances.

The seasons:

Winter (December - February)

When it comes to the normal temperature distribution in winter, two main features are evident: firstly, the mean temperature in the winter months are above freezing all along the coast from Lista (Vest-Agder) to the Lofoten area (Nordland). Secondly, the lower inland areas, both in the southern and northern part of Norway, have very low mean temperatures in winter. The Finnmark Plateau is the coldest area with mean monthly temperatures around -15 °C.

The highest temperature ever registered during winter, is 18,9 °C in Sunndalsøra (Møre og Romsdal) in February. This almost summerly temperature is for instance higher than the Danish (15,8 °C) and Swedish (16,2° C) records, because the North-western part of Norway is exposed to foehn-effect in situations with strong southerly wind.

The lowest temperature ever measured in Norway is -51,4 °C, recorded on January 1st 1886 at Karasjok on the Finnmark Plateau.

Temperatures below -40 °C are moreover not unusual in the inner districts of Troms county and the inner districts of Østlandet, even if this does not happen each winter.

Spring (March - May)

The increasing solar energy during springtime eventually melts the snow cover, and the land areas are being warmed up faster than the sea.

In early spring, a zone near the coast of Western Norway has the highest mean temperatures, but in May the highest temperatures are found in the southern part of Østlandet.

Summer (June -August)

In summer the warmest areas are the southern part of Østlandet and the coastal areas of Sørlandet. The highest monthly mean temperature ever recorded is 22,7 °C for July 1901 in Oslo.

The highest recorded maximum temperature is 35,6 °C, measured on June 20th 1970 at Nesbyen (Buskerud).

Because of the midnight sun, also Northern Norway can enjoy temperatures above 30 °C. The record is 34,4 °C from June 23rd 1920 at Sihccajavri (Finnmark). Because of very low winter temperatures and high summer temperatures, the Finnmark Plateau has the largest recorded difference between the highest and lowest temperature recorded. The record difference for Karasjok is an amazing 83,8 °C.

Autumn (September - November)

During autumn the land areas lose more heat than the sea, and eventually the coastal areas have the highest temperatures. In September the outer part of the Oslofjord has the highest mean temperatures. Later in the autumn, the warmest areas are found at the coast of Rogaland and Hordaland.

 

Normal annual temperature. Click the map for more information.
Air temperature

Highest annual temperature

The highest annual temperatures can be found in the coastal areas of the southern and western part of Norway. Skudeneshavn (Rogaland) has a normal temperature of 7,7 °C. In 1994 Lindesnes lighthouse (Vest-Agder) recorded the highest annual temperature ever, with 9,4 °C.

Lowest annual temperature

Excluding mountain areas, the coldest areas throughout the year is the Finnmark Plateau. One of the stations, Sihccajavri, has an annual temperature of -3,1 °C. The coldest year ever was in 1893, when Kautokeino (Finnmark) recorded a mean temperature of -5,1 °C. Sihccajavri equalled this in 1985.

In the mountains, large areas have an annual temperature of -4 °C or less.

Precipitation

The precipitation in Norway can broadly be divided into three categories: frontal precipitation, orographic precipitation and showery precipitation. Both orographic and showery precipitation are due to the ascending of humid air, which cools and releases precipitation as rain or snow.
  • Frontal precipitation

Most of the precipitation in Norway falls into this category. Typically, when a cyclone develops along the polar front zone - the often remarkably sharp transition layer between warm and humid air in south, and cold and dry air in north - the warm air rises above the cold air, cools and releases precipitation. The polar front offers humid air masses over Norway in all seasons of the year, but the cyclone activity is greatest in autumn and winter.

  • Orographic precipitation
Air masses which meet the coast of Norway are given a larger vertical speed because of the forced lifting by the mountains. This in turn cools the air more rapidly and finally gives more precipitation than without this effect. The maximum zone of precipitation is some 50 km from the coast.
  • Showery precipitation
Showery precipitation occurs in unstable air giving vertical currents. The rising air cools and precipitation is released. It is most dominant in summer, when the heating is strongest. But it can also coincide with frontal precipitation and orographic precipitation and locally enhance these.

Normal annual precipitation. Click the map for more information.
Geographical differences in precipitation

There are large differences in the normal annual precipitation in Norway. The largest amounts are found some miles from the coast of Western Norway. In these areas the frontal and orographic precipitation dominates, and most of the precipitation is received during autumn and winter. Showery precipitation occurs most frequently in the inner districts of Østlandet and Finnmark. Here summer is the wettest part of the year, and winter and spring the driest.

Wettest areas

The largest normal annual precipitation occurs in the area from the Hardanger fjord to the Møre area. These amounts are also among the highest in Europe.

Brekke in Sogn og Fjordane county has an annual precipitation of 3575 mm.

Several other stations in this area follow close behind. However, based on measurements of annual run-off, some glaciers must have an annual precipitation of about 5000 mm. Brekke has also the record for one year precipitation, with 5596 mm in 1990.

Rain shadow areas

The inner part of Østlandet, the Finnmark Plateau, and some smaller areas near the Swedish border, are all lee areas in relation to the large weather systems mainly coming from the west. Common for these areas is the low annual precipitation and that showery precipitation during summer is the largest contributor.

Driest areas

Øygarden (Oppland) has the lowest annual normal precipitation with 278 mm.

This is lower than the normal monthly precipitation for the 6 wettest months of Brekke. Other noteworthy dry places are Dividalen (Troms) 282 mm, Kautokeino (Finnmark) 360 mm and Folldal (Hedmark) 364 mm. However, the lowest recorded precipitation for one year is only 118 mm, measured at Saltdal (Nordland) in 1996.

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