Soviet Union Table of Contents
Notorious cold and long winters have, understandably, been the focus of discussions on the Soviet Union's weather and climate. From the frozen depths of Siberia have come baby mammoths perfectly preserved, locked in ice for several thousand years. Millions of square kilometers experience half a year of subfreezing temperatures and snow cover over subsoil that is permanently frozen in places to depths of several hundred meters. In northeastern Siberia, not far from Yakutsk, hardy settlers cope with January temperatures that consistently average -50° C. Transportation routes, including entire railroad lines, have been redirected in winter to traverse rock-solid waterways and lakes.
Howling Arctic winds that produce coastal wind chills as low as -152° C and the burany, or blinding snowstorms of the steppe, are climatic manifestations of a relatively unfavorable position in the Northern Hemisphere. The dominance of winter in the Soviet Union is a result of the proximity to the North Pole--the southernmost point of the country is about on the same latitude as Oklahoma City, Oklahoma--and remoteness from oceans that tend to moderate the climate. As a result, cold, high-pressure systems in the east--the "Siberian high"--and wet, cold cyclonic systems in the west largely determine the overall weather patterns.
The long, cold winter has a profound impact on almost every aspect of life in the Soviet Union. It affects where and how long people live and work and what kinds of crops are grown and where they are grown (no part of the country has a year-round growing season). The length and severity of the winter, along with the sharp fluctuations in the mean summer and winter temperatures, impose special requirements on many branches of the economy: in regions of permafrost, buildings must be constructed on pilings, and machinery must be made of specially tempered steel; transportation systems must be engineered to perform reliably in extremely low and high temperatures; the health care field and the textile industry are greatly affected by the ramifications of six to eight months of winter; and energy demands are multiplied by extended periods of darkness and cold.
Despite its well-deserved reputation as a generally snowy, icy northern country, the Soviet Union includes other major climatic zones as well. According to Soviet geographers, most of their country is located in the temperate zone, which for them includes all of the European portion except the southern part of Crimea and the Caucasus, all of Siberia, the Soviet Far East, and the plains of Soviet Central Asia and the southern Kazakh Republic. Within this belt are the taiga, the steppes, and the deserts of Soviet Central Asia. In fact, the climate in much of this zone is anything but temperate; it varies from the moderate maritime climate of the Baltic republics, which is similar to the American Northwest, to the continental climate of the east and northeast, which is akin to that of the Yukon Territory. Leningrad and Yakutsk, although roughly on the same latitude, have average January temperatures of -7C and -50C , respectively.
Two areas outside the temperate zone demonstrate the climatic diversity of the Soviet Union: the Soviet Far East, under the influence of the Pacific Ocean, with a monsoonal climate; and the subtropical band of territory extending along the southern coast of the Soviet Union's most popular resort area, Crimea, through the Caucasus and into Soviet Central Asia, where there are deserts and oases.
With most of the land so far removed from the oceans and the moisture they provide, levels of precipitation in the Soviet Union are low to moderate. More than half the country receives fewer than forty centimeters of rainfall each year, and most of Soviet Central Asia and northeastern Siberia can count on barely one-half that amount. The wettest parts are found in the small, lush subtropical region of the Caucasus and in the Soviet Far East along the Pacific coast.
Data as of May 1989
Soviet Union Table of Contents