The vast Tibetan Plateau spans a large area which goes beyond the political boundaries of the Chinese autonomous region of Tibet. Tibet climate belongs to the typical high-altitude plateau climate. The weather and climate of Tibet are largely shaped by its complex terrain and atmospheric circulation. The climate of different places of Tibet varies greatly, with the temperature changing greatly in one day. It mainly consists of tropical montane humid monsoon climate, plateau temperate monsoon climate, frigid plateau monsoon climate and subfrigid monsoon climate.
Features of Climate in Tibet
1. Thin Air and Low Air Pressure
Due to the high altitude, many first-time visitors to Lhasa (3650m) will be surprised by the high visibility of the plateau air. They will also experience some symptoms of slight plateau altitude sickness, such as shortness of breath and rapid heartbeat. After a few days, all of these symptoms will disappear as your body adjusts to the high altitude. At the same time, you will also notice that the air is very clean and there is almost no moisture. Lhasa is located at 3,500 metres (11,500 feet) above sea level and the air at this altitude contains 68% of the oxygen that is found at sea level. At high altitudes water boils at lower temperatures: it boils at 90 °C at 3,000 metres (195 °F at 9,800 feet), at 87 °C at 4,000 metres (189 °F at 13,100 feet), and at 84 °C at 5,000 metres (183 °F at 16,400 feet).
For more information about altitude sickness, please read Health Knowledge You Should Learn Before Traveling to Tibet.
2. Strong Solar Radiation
As we know, Tibet is located on the Qinghai-Tibet plateau, the highest plateau in the world. The increased radiation of sun increases the amount of UV radiation. The amount of solar radiation it gets normally exceeds more than twice or one third of the areas with same latitude. Lhasa, famed as ‘the Sunshine City’, the annual daytime has as long as 3021 hours. The higher the altitude, the higher the index of UV radiation. So it’s very important to protect your skin from strong ultraviolet and wind which will make your skin damaged and aging.
For more information about skin care, please read How to Protect Your Skin When You Travel to Tibet.
3. Large Temperature Difference between Day and Night
The thin air can neither radiate nor absorb heat, resulting in temperature extremes during both day and night. As a result, the annual temperature (-3.4 ℃) of Tibet in winter (Dec, 2014- Feb, 2015) on average is not as cold as one expect while the annual temperature of summer (June – Aug, 2015) on average in Tibet is 13.1℃. During spring and autumn you need to be prepared for four seasons in one day, including the possibility of snowfall.
4. Distinct Dry & Rainy Seasons
The summer monsoon brings rainfall from June to September; July and August are the rainiest month, with 120/125 mm (4.7/4.9 in) per month on average. Most annual rainfall comes in the rainy season that starts from May to September, when the precipitation covers 90 percent of the whole year. Usually it rains at night in Lhasa, Shigatse and Chamdo area. The precipitations gradually decrease from 5000 millimeters in the lower part of southeast to just 50 in the northwest.
Four Seasons in Tibet
Spring(from March to May) in Tibet
In spring, there is large temperature difference between day and night. It is warm in daytime and cold at night. The temperature of Lhasa at night could fall to -2℃, -3℃, and in the daytime, the temperature will rise to 10℃. The climate in Nyingchi is milder in spring and the air is not so dry. In spring, most tourists travel to Shannan, Shigatse, Lhasa and Nyingchi prefectures. Nyingchi Peach Cultural Tourism Festival has been held since 2002.
Summer(from June to August) in Tibet
Summer in Tibet is very comfortable. The sky is blue and the cloud is white, and temperature is moderate. The sunlight is certainly powerful, but as the air is dry, if you can avoid the strong sunlight, the body will have a sense of appropriate comfort, not as hot and humid as inland provinces. There is also a big gap of temperature between day and night, which is almost 14 to 16 degrees celsius. The weather is cool in the morning and evening, hot in the afternoon, but chilly in the midnight.
Autumn(from September to November) in Tibet
The weather in autumn is cool but dry. Most of the days in autumn here are with blue skies, little rain but dry air. Morning and night are with slightly lower temperatures and there is large temperature difference between day and night. Tibet’s autumn also has strong ultraviolet rays. In October, the weather will be just like the weather in winter.
Winter(from December to February) in Tibet
Go to Tibet in winter, you can see a grand scenery of the snowy high plateau. Along with plenty of sunshine during the daytime, it brings the temperature to above 10℃, while evening is around zero, warmer than many places in the northern China. The weather in winter is dry, however you may not feel so cold under the sunshine.
Climate of Major Destinations
Climate of Lhasa
Lhasa (coordinates: 29°39′N 91°07′E) is located in southeast Tibet and north of Lhasa River, the branch of the Yarlung Zangbo River, Lying in the north part of Himalayas, and middle of Qinghai Tibet Plateau. Due to its unique geographic location and topography, Lhasa enjoys plateau temperate semi-arid climate. It features strong radiation, long hours of sunshine, great temperature difference during a day. It’s dry, cold and windy in winter and warm & humid in summer and autumn. For more information, please see Climate of Lhasa.
Climate of Shigatse
Situated in the southwest Qinghai Tibet Plateau and Tibet Autonomous Region, Shigatse has an average high elevation of 4,000 meters. Yarlung Zangbo River and Nianqu River rejoin in Shigatse, and creates vast river valleys and fertile plains, which gives Shigatse a warm and sunny climate. It features thin air, strong ultraviolet, low air pressure, less oxygen than flat areas. For more information, please see Climate of Shigatse.
Climate of Nyingchi
Nyingchi is situated at the north bank of Yarlung Zangbo River, lower reaches of Niyang River, at the southeast part of Tibet. The climate here is complicate with great vertical changes, forming coexistent variety of climatic zone: tropical climate, subtropical climate, temperate climate, boreal climate, humid climate and semi-humid climate. For more information, please see Climate of Nyingchi.
Climate of Shannan
Shannan(Lhoka) enjoys a temperate and dry climate, with average annual rainfall of less than 450 millimeters. The rainy season is concentrated between June and September. There are several features of Shannan(Lhoka) Climate, such as, not distinct four seasons, moderate temperate, adequate light, thin air, dry, uneven distribution of annual precipitation, and diverse climate resource allocation. For more information, please see Climate of Shannan.
Best Season to Visit
Tibet is on a high altitude plateau, with much of the land experiencing permafrost throughout the year. It can be visited all year around and each season does show a distinct beauty due to its diverse topography and massive areas. So the best time to visit depends on what you want to do and see. Check the detailed information on best time to visit Tibet including best time to visit Mt. Everest, Mt. Kailash, Namtso Lake, etc.
What to Pack
1. The climate in Tibet is warm in daytime and cold at night. Bring warm clothes, fleece, a hat, gloves, a parka, etc.
2. Take sunscreen with you which can offer you UV protection. Or you can wear hats and sunglasses in order to protect yourself from the sunburn.
3. Get ready for the rain gears. The rain season in Tibet is from May to September, ends at the end of September or the beginning of October.
4. Drink more water and try to eat some fresh fruits and vegetables to help you adjust yourself well on the plateau.
5. Prepare well for preventing high altitude sickness. Bring some medicine with you.