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California - Weather and Climate

California is situated on the western coast of the United States of America. The state is approximately 800 miles long from north to south and about 200 miles wide from east to west. It has almost 800 miles of Pacific coast that varies from warm sandy beaches in the south to rugged rocky shores in the north. About midway up the coast, mountains plunge directly into the sea forming the spectacular scenery of Big Sur.

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A series of low mountains along the coast shelter the broad central valley than runs down the middle of the entire state. This valley forms one of the most productive agricultural centers in the country. A bit further inland, the massive Sierra Nevada mountain range forms an eastern backbone to the state. Here lies Mount Whitney, the highest peak in continental United States and some spectacular alpine scenery. Behind the Sierras and south of them, the vast Mojave Desert extends eastward into Nevada. This forbidding arid wasteland contains some strange and beautiful scenery.

The climate in California varies significantly from one location to another. Basically, it is semi-tropical along the southern coast with arid desert in most of the southern and eastern extremities. In the north, it is mildly temperate with colder alpine climates at the higher altitudes. In California, you can lounge on a warm sandy beach, drive up a mountain to ski on snow covered slopes or drive down into the intense heat of the desert, and you can do it all in the same day!

The temperature is pleasant the entire year in most of the coastal areas. Cools breezes from the Pacific Ocean moderate the summer heat and keep the winters very mild. Expect temperatures around the 80s during the summer falling to the 60s during the winter. San Francisco and the northern part of the state will normally be a bit cooler. At the higher altitudes, especially in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, it can become very cold with extensive snowfalls (up to 40 feet deep, 15 meters). The desert areas are intensely hot during the summer with temperatures in some areas often rising above 120 degrees F (40 degrees C). They become more bearable during the winter months when temperatures plummet to no more than 70 degrees.

San Francisco
Month Average High Average Low Rainfall
  (F) (C) (F) (C) (in) (mm)
Jan 56 13 46 7 4.5 114
Feb 59 15 48 8 2.8 71
Mar 60 15 49 9 2.6 66
Apr 61 16 49 9 1.5 38
May 63 17 51 10 0.4 10
Jun 64 17 53 10 0.2 5
Jul 64 17 53 11 0 0
Aug 65 18 54 12 0.1 3
Sep 69 20 56 13 0.2 5
Oct 68 20 55 12 1.1 28
Nov 63 17 52 11 2.5 63
Dec 57 13 47 8 3.5 89
Los Angeles
Month Average High Average Low Rainfall
  (F) (C) (F) (C) (in) (mm)
Jan 67 19 48 8 3.7 94
Feb 69 20 49 9 3 76
Mar 69 20 50 10 2.4 61
Apr 71 21 53 11 1.2 30
May 73 22 57 13 0.2 5
Jun 78 25 60 15 0.3 8
Jul 84 28 64 16 0 0
Aug 84 28 65 18 0.1 3
Sep 83 28 64 17 0.3 8
Oct 79 26 59 15 0.2 5
Nov 73 22 53 11 1.9 48
Dec 68 20 48 8 2 51
Written by: Mike Leco
Top Photo Credit: © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
Photo Description: Beach along the coast of Santa Barbara