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Land and Resources, Climate

Hinggan, Mongolian Steppe, Sichuan Basin, arctic climate, hailstorms

China is similar to the United States in terms of the range of weather conditions. Chinas climates, however, tend to be more extreme, and regional contrasts are generally greater. In addition, southeastern coastal China and the island of Hainan extend into the tropics and have considerable precipitation associated with the summer monsoon (prevailing winds).

The Asian monsoon exerts the primary control on Chinas climate. In winter, cold, dry winds blow clockwise east and south from the high-pressure system of central Siberia, bringing cold, dry conditions to much of North and Central China north of the Yangtze River. In summer, warm, moist air blows inland from the Pacific Ocean. Typhoons are common between July and November, bringing high winds and heavy rains to the coastal areas. Amounts of precipitation decline rapidly with distance from the sea and on leeward sides of mountains. The remote basins of Northwest China receive little precipitation.

A subtropical climate prevails in most of Central, South, and Southwest China. Summer temperatures in this region average 26C (79F); the average winter temperature is 4C (39F). The extreme south and southwest have tropical climates, with average July temperatures of 28C (82F) and average January temperatures of 17C (63F). The mountainous plateaus and basins in the southwest also have subtropical climates, with considerable local variation. The higher elevations cause the summers to be cooler, and winters are mild because the mountains protect the plateaus and basins from northerly winds. The Sichuan Basin, which has an 11-month growing season, is noted for high humidity and cloudiness. Rainfall, especially abundant in summer, exceeds 990 mm (39 in) annually in nearly all parts of southern China.

North China experiences a cold, dry winter and a warm, rainy summer. At Beijing, the average January temperature is -5C (23F) and the average July temperature is 26C (79F). Annual precipitation totals are less than 760 mm (30 in) and decrease to the northwest, which has a drier climate. Year-to-year variability of precipitation in these areas is great; this factor, combined with occasional dust storms and hailstorms, can negatively impact agricultural yields.

The climate of Northeast China is similar to, but colder than, that of North China. January temperatures average -20C (-4F) at Harbin, while July temperatures average 23C (73F). Rainfall, concentrated in summer, averages between about 510 and 760 mm (about 20 and 30 in) in the east but declines to about 300 mm (about 12 in) west of the Da Hinggan Ling.

Desert and steppe climates prevail in the Mongolian Steppe and Northwest China. January temperatures average below -10C (14F) everywhere except in the Tarim Pendi. July temperatures generally exceed 20C (68F). Most of the area receives less than 100 mm (4 in) of precipitation.

The Tibetan Plateau has an arctic or near-arctic climate because of its high elevation: At Lhasa, July temperatures average 15C (59F), and January temperatures average -2C (28F). The air is clear and dry throughout the year, with annual precipitation totals of less than 100 mm (4 in) everywhere except in the extreme southeast.

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