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Russia - Climate and Weather

Coping with the weather will be an important part of your expat adventure in Russia.

The scale of Russia’s territory is breath-taking. In December 1991, it was the largest of 17 countries to become an independent nation, following the breakup of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). However, even standing alone, it has more territory than any other country on the globe.

To give you an idea, Canada is the second largest country in the world, but Russia is twice the size of Canada.

Russia is so large, it has 11 time zones. It spans a third of Europe and all of northern Asia. Not surprisingly, its climates therefore vary enormously, from Siberia’s sub-arctic conditions to the Ryn Desert in the south.

The Ural Mountains and Ural River mark where the continents of Europe and northern Asia meet. The Urals are just one of Russia’s nine major mountain ranges. Most of these ranges can be found to the east and the south of the country.

Also to the east lies Siberia, an immense climate which offers little of nature’s bounty to sustain human habitation. To the west of the Urals, you will find broad plains and rolling hills.

Even Russia’s cities are huge. Some 90 of these have more than 200,000 residents, 13 of which have a population of more than a million people. Moscow alone has almost 12 million residents, followed by St Petersburg with around five million. For comparison, it’s worth noting that London and New York both have populations of just over eight million.

Not only is Russia vast, but its position in the world is significant. It shares borders with 16 other countries, more than any other nation on earth. Some of its borders are shared with politically important neighbours.

Russia’s longest border is shared with Kazakhstan. At 7,513 km, this is only beaten for the position of world’s longest border by the one between the USA and Canada.

The 4,209 km shared with China may be shorter, but it is meaningful in a globalised world in which China has emerged as an economic power.

Russia and North Korea only share 17 km of border, but the small Communist state causes concern in many international quarters.

The border between Russia and Ukraine is 1,926 km long, making it the fourth longest border Russia shares with another nation. Ukraine is experiencing an ongoing struggle to maintain its independence from Russia. In 2014, a number of countries imposed sanctions on Russia in response to events in Ukraine. You should learn something about the situation there before moving to Russia, plus it might be an idea to avoid getting into discussion about it with Russian people.

Other countries sharing a border with Russia are Mongolia, Finland, Belarus, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Abkhazia, Poland, Norway and South Ossetia. That gives you some idea of the sheer physical scale of Russia and therefore the variation of climate and weather across the regions. Summer Climate In Moscow

Polly Barks, a US expat in Moscow, told ExpatFocus:

“In Moscow, there are expats galore, as well as a host of Russians ready and willing to speak in English. There are expat clubs, get-togethers, and even bars dedicated to foreigners abroad. If you're an expat (particularly an English-speaking one), you'll never be far from fellow patriots.

Note that once you move beyond Moscow and St. Petersburg, the number of expats plummets to nearly zero very quickly.”

The majority of English-speaking expats live in the Russian capital city of Moscow. This is a city which experiences two very distinct seasons. Summers are warm and can become very hot, whilst winters are bitterly cold.

If you’re making plans to move to Moscow, the climate is a factor to consider. Arriving between late May and early September gives you the chance to experience life in the city in pleasant weather conditions. The bitter ice, snow and cold of Moscow’s winter is not usually a good environment in which to fall in love with your new home.

July is the hottest time of year. Average temperatures range between 14 °C (57 °F) and 24 °C (75 °F). However, hot days can easily hit 35 °C (95 °F), often lasting a few days before ending with magnificent thunderstorms which clear the air. Most of the summer rainfall arrives with the thunderstorms.

Throughout June and into the start of July, the days are long. Even at midnight, skies aren’t completely dark. From May to July, you can expect about nine hours of sunshine a day, albeit subject to Moscow’s fluctuating weather conditions. Further north, St Petersburg has a full 24 hours of daylight during the height of the summer.

Big cities create urban heat islands, and Moscow is no exception. Night and winter temperatures in particular will be slightly warmer in Moscow than in the surrounding countryside.

Winter Climate In Moscow

As early as late September, the snow starts to fall, although it typically holds off until October. You can’t be sure the snow is gone for good until the end of April. During the long, grey months in between, snow falls frequently and the sun is rarely seen. There are only a few short hours each day that aren’t dark, and for many expats, this is the hardest part about the winter in Moscow.

February is, on average, the coldest month of the year in Moscow. You can expect temperatures to hover between -4 °C (25 °F) and -10 °C (14 °F). However, on any winter day that the wind blows in from Siberia, the temperature quickly falls to -25 °C (-13 °F) and can even reach -40 °C (-40 °F).

The best you can hope for during the winter is a warm wind to raise the temperatures to around freezing. You’ll notice winter is ending when the snow gives way to slush and mud. And then before you know it, summer has begun, with little indication that you experienced a spring season.

What To Wear In Moscow

Not surprisingly, you will need a varied wardrobe to survive the weather in Moscow.

During the summer, take care to keep hydrated and protected by sun hats and sunscreen. Everyone will be delighted by the arrival of hot days but they can make formal wear at work somewhat uncomfortable. Public transport is crowded and slow moving, so getting around can be sticky and uncomfortable in the heat.

Given that the temperatures are variable, you may find you need a jacket or cardigan by the late afternoon. Plus, rain appears with little notice. So having a light raincoat or umbrella to hand is always a good idea, no matter how the day started out.

The heatwave of 2010 saw a boom in sales for air conditioning units, and powering them caused electricity blackouts in some communities outside Moscow. Businesses serving customers or with large numbers of screen-based employees are likely to have invested in air conditioning, but many households just use table-top fans. After all, heatwaves are the exception rather than the norm, and a nice day quickly becomes cold and rainy.

In winter, the streets will be bitterly cold and slippery. Wear a thick coat, gloves, a scarf and a hat. Take these items everywhere because even if the journey to work in the morning is pleasant, a change of wind direction in the afternoon can make the journey home bitter.

A stout pair of boots with good grips should keep you upright but do watch out for black ice. You will need thick socks to protect your feet.

The good news is that homes, shops and offices are kept warm in winter. So your thick jumper can usually be hung up with your coat when settling back indoors.

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