Due to its latitude, topography and altitude, Mongolia has a climate that is classified as extreme continental. Ulan Bator is the coldest capital city on earth and the country experiences long, freezing winters and short, wet summers. A unique weather element known as the dzud occasionally brings incredibly heavy snowfalls and unusually low temperatures which make winter grazing though the snow impossible and sometimes results in the loss of entire herds.
During the long winter season, average temperatures across most of Mongolia stay below freezing from November through March and around freezing in October and April. In January and February, average daytime lows of -4°F drop sharply to -40°F at night. All of the country’s lakes and rivers freeze over, and most of the land is covered in discontinuous permafrost. The wind-chill in spring and fall makes it feel even colder.
The short summers run from May to September and, in the Gobi region, daytime highs reach and often exceed 100°F, with Ulan Bator and its surroundings seeing highs of 90°F.
The capital sees almost all of its 12 inches of rainfall a year in July and August and, in the Gobi Desert region, rain is rare, sometimes occurring only once in several years. In general, Mongolia’s weather is extremely unpredictable in summer and variable the rest of the year. Severe blizzards and ice storms in winter, and dust storms in spring, can appear out of nowhere, and massive drops in temperature in the winter kill herders and animals alike, while harsh summer droughts decimate the land.
Best Time to Visit Mongolia
If you’re planning to visit Mongolia, the climate should definitely be a major consideration. In spite of August’s searing hot temperatures, heavy rain and high humidity, it’s the best time to visit as the land is lush and green. September is cooler but unpredictable as the northern forests glow with fall colors. Snow may appear in the north, but in the south on the edge of the Gobi, the weather is good for outdoor recreation. May and June are also good times to explore the south of the country.
The steppes in high summer endure massive dust storms and are best avoided unless you are used to it and can protect yourself from the extreme cold. The spectacular winter season is not the time to visit. Endless snow sparkling with ice crystals are picturesque, but frostbite and hypothermia are serious dangers. If you’re looking for cultural activities, July in Ulan Bator and across the country sees the fabulous Naadam festival. Hotel rates at Ulan Bator’s top getaways are at their highest in July, but reductions in less popular months may be found.