Because it is landlocked, Mongolia has a continental climate prone to extreme temperature swings.
Mongolians say Mongolia has four seasons: summer, autumn, winter, and spring. Western expats joke that Mongolia has four seasons, alright: June, July, August, and winter. Because spring and autumn seem so short (noted as a few weeks without long underwear and then a few weeks after shorts but before long underwear) it can seem like Mongolia really only has two seasons.
With the two main holidays, Mongolian herders mark the shift in the major seasons, and they begin preparing their animals and resources accordingly. Tsagaan Sar in late February to mid-March marks the end of winter, though freezing temperatures can continue into June. At this time herders will begin preparations to rotate their herds into the spring and summer pastures, usually on higher ground. Naadam in mid-July signals the end of summer, so while temperatures may still be blazing into September, herders will begin preparing fodder, making and drying milk products or meat for winter storage, and bringing their herds down to hunker through the long winter.
In many places around the world, spring is a time of rebirth as plants and animals emerge from their cloistered winter hideouts and longer days of sunshine fill people with hopeful euphoria. In Mongolia, spring is the dreaded sandstorm season filled with fear as unannounced walls of painful dirt pellets wash over entire towns, filling gers, shops, and hairdos with their torturous wrath. Autumn is much more peaceful as temperatures quickly drop below freezing and deciduous trees seem to lose their colorful bouquets overnight.
Also, you can’t mention Mongolia without mentioning the big blue sky. It even has the moniker “Land of the Blue Sky,” and shamanism is centered around worshiping the sky. But although 260 days of the year will have clear blue skies, about 95 days of the year will be cloudy. Most precipitation comes in the summer, a popular time for tourism. Mongolians do tend to love rain, and the infrequent, short-lived sprinkles and summer thunderstorms are generally a delight, not least because Mongolia’s wide-open expanses make rainbows astoundingly common.
Four Climate Zones
There are four general climate zones in Mongolia that cut across the country from east to west, dipping toward the south like stacked soup bowls. They overlap and are affected by elevation and resulting rainfall.
Surrounding the taiga to the south is the grassland steppe, home to graminaceous grasses like wormwoods. Pine trees run up the flat sides of hills, and birch trees gather near waterways. You can also find shrubs like potentilla and berry bushes like sea buckthorn, black currant, and blueberry. Grasses here are plush, sometimes reaching waist high, and support herds well, especially high consumers like cattle.
The central part of the country is an arid desert steppe where the grasses are typically short and thin and are suited to supporting goats and even yaks in the transitional zones. Birch trees can grow here with great care and cultivation but are not necessarily suited for it.
The Gobi Desert comprises the lower level of the country. It is situated between the Altai Mountains to the north and the North China Plain in the southeast, but it’s not exactly what you might think of when you picture a desert. The Gobi differs from many deserts in that it is not an ocean of sand dunes. Instead, it is more like a dry, shrubby landscape covered with rock outcroppings and isolated sand dunes in certain areas with some important oases strewn about. It gets cold in winter, sometimes as low as -40 ° C (-40 ° F), but don’t think that it’s always cold because, after all, Mongolia is a country of extremes. In summer, which is also the “rainy” season —average seasonal rainfall of about 7 centimeters (2.8 inches) — temperatures can reach over 40 ° C (105 ° F). There are wide temperature swings, so evenings and even days can be quite chilly, even during summer.
The Gobi Stats
World’s fifth largest desert behind the Sahara, Arabian, Antarctic, and Arctic.
Cuts across: Bayankhongor, Dornogovi, Dundgovi, Govi-Altai, Govisumber, Umnugovi, Sukhbaatar.
The Himalaya Mountain Range blocks rain-carrying clouds from reaching the Gobi.
Just over 1,500 meters above sea level.
Ten percent of Mongolians (roughly 300,000 people) live in area about the size of France.
Home to various animals like gazelles, antelopes, two-humped Bactrian camels, wild horses, wild ass ( khulan ), and the rare Gobi bear (mazaalai).
Average Weather for Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Over the course of a year, the temperature typically varies from -33°C to 27°C and is rarely below -38°C or above 32°C
Daily High and Low Temperature
The daily average low (blue) and high (red) temperature with percentile bands (inner band from 25th to 75th percentile, outer band from 10th to 90th percentile)
The warm season lasts from May 17 to September 22 with an average daily high temperature above 18°C. The hottest day of the year is July 28, with an average high of 27°C and low of 12°C.
The cold season lasts from November 30 to February 22 with an average daily high temperature below -10°C. The coldest day of the year is January 16, with an average low of -33°C and high of -19°C.