The climate of India comprises a wide range of weather conditions across a vast geographic scale and varied topography, making generalisations difficult. Based on the Köppen system, India hosts six major climatic subtypes, ranging from arid desert in the west, alpine tundra and glaciers in the north, and humid tropical regions supporting rainforests in the southwest and the island territories. Many regions have starkly different microclimates. The nation has four seasons: winter (December, January and February), summer (March, April and May), a monsoon rainy season (June to September), and a post-monsoon period (October to November).
India’s geography and geology are climatically pivotal: the Thar Desert in the northwest and the Himalayas in the north work in tandem to effect a culturally and economically important monsoonal regime. As Earth’s highest and most massive mountain range, the Himalayas bar the influx of frigid katabatic winds from the icy Tibetan Plateau and northerly Central Asia. Most of North India is thus kept warm or is only mildly chilly or cold during winter; the same thermal dam keeps most regions in India hot in summer.
Though the Tropic of Cancer—the boundary between the tropics and subtropics—passes through the middle of India, the bulk of the country can be regarded as climatically tropical. As in much of the tropics, monsoonal and other weather patterns in India can be wildly unstable: epochal droughts, floods, cyclones, and other natural disasters are sporadic, but have displaced or ended millions of human lives. There is one scientific opinion which states that in South Asia such climatic events are likely to change in unpredictability, frequency, and severity. Ongoing and future vegetative changes and current sea level rises and the attendant inundation of India’s low-lying coastal areas are other impacts, current or predicted, that are attributable to global warming.
Climatic regions of India
India is home to an extraordinary variety of climatic regions, ranging from tropical in the south to temperate and alpine in the Himalayan north, where elevated regions receive sustained winter snowfall. The nation’s climate is strongly influenced by the Himalayas and the Thar Desert. The Himalayas, along with the Hindu Kush mountains in Pakistan, prevent cold Central Asian katabatic winds from blowing in, keeping the bulk of the Indian subcontinent warmer than most locations at similar latitudes. Simultaneously, the Thar Desert plays a role in attracting moisture-laden southwest summer monsoon winds that, between June and October, provide the majority of India’s rainfall. Four major climatic groupings predominate, into which fall seven climatic zones that, as designated by experts, are defined on the basis of such traits as temperature and precipitation. Groupings are assigned codes according to the Köppen climate classification system.
A tropical rainy climate governs regions persistent to warm or high temperatures, which normally do not fall below 18 °C. India hosts two climatic subtypes- tropical monsoon climate, tropical wet and dry climate that fall under this group.
- The most humid is the tropical wet climate—also known as a tropical monsoon climate—that covers a strip of southwestern lowlands abutting the Malabar Coast, the Western Ghats, and southern Assam. India’s two island territories, Lakshadweep and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, are also subject to this climate. Characterised by moderate to high year-round temperatures, even in the foothills, its rainfall is seasonal but heavy—typically above 2,000 mm per year. Most rainfall occurs between May and November; this moisture is enough to sustain lush forests and other vegetation for the rest of the mainly dry year. December to March are the driest months, when days with precipitation are rare. The heavy monsoon rains are responsible for the exceptional biodiversity of tropical wet forests in parts of these regions.
- In India a tropical wet and dry climateis more common. Noticeably drier than areas with a tropical monsoon climate, it prevails over most of inland peninsular India except for a semi arid rain shadow east of the Western Ghats. Winter and early summer are long and dry periods with temperatures averaging above 18 °C. Summer is exceedingly hot; temperatures in low-lying areas may exceed 50 °C during May, leading to heat waves that can each kill hundreds of Indians. The rainy season lasts from June to September; annual rainfall averages between 750–1,500 mm across the region. Once the dry northeast monsoon begins in September, most precipitation in India falls on Tamil Nadu, leaving other states comparatively dry.
The Ganges Delta lies mostly in the tropical wet climate zone: it receives between 1,500 to 2,000 mm of rainfall each year in the western part, and 2,000 to 3,000 mm in the eastern part. The coolest month of the year, on average, is January; April and May are the warmest months. Average temperatures in January range from 14 to 25 °C, and average temperatures in April range from 25 to 35 °C.July is on average the wettest month: over 330 mm of rain falls on the delta.
A tropical arid and semi-arid climate dominates regions where the rate of moisture loss through evapotranspiration exceeds that from precipitation; it is subdivided into three climatic subtypes- tropical semi-arid steppe, arid climate, tropical and sub-tropical steppe climate.
- The first, a tropical semi-arid steppe climate, (Hot semi-arid climate) predominates over a long stretch of land south of Tropic of Cancer and east of the Western Ghats and the Cardamom Hills. The region, which includes Karnataka, inland Tamil Nadu, western Andhra Pradesh, and central Maharashtra, gets between 400–750 millimetres annually. It is drought-prone, as it tends to have less reliable rainfall due to sporadic lateness or failure of the southwest monsoon. Karnataka is divided into three zones – coastal, north interior and south interior. Of these, the coastal zone receives the heaviest rainfall with an average rainfall of about 3,638.5 mm per annum, far in excess of the state average of 1,139 mm. In contrast to norm, Agumbe in the Shivamogga district receives the second highest annual rainfall in India. North of the Krishna River, the summer monsoon is responsible for most rainfall; to the south, significant post-monsoon rainfall also occurs in October and November. In December, the coldest month, temperatures still average around 20–24 °C. The months between March to May are hot and dry; mean monthly temperatures hover around 32 °C, with 320 millimetres precipitation. Hence, without artificial irrigation, this region is not suitable for permanent agriculture.
- Most of western Rajasthan experiences an arid climatic regime(Hot desert climate). Cloudbursts are responsible for virtually all of the region’s annual precipitation, which totals less than 300 millimetres. Such bursts happen when monsoon winds sweep into the region during July, August, and September. Such rainfall is highly erratic; regions experiencing rainfall one year may not see precipitation for the next couple of years or so. Atmospheric moisture is largely prevented from precipitating due to continuous downdrafts and other factors. The summer months of May and June are exceptionally hot; mean monthly temperatures in the region hover around 35 °C, with daily maxima occasionally topping 50 °C. During winters, temperatures in some areas can drop below freezing due to waves of cold air from Central Asia. There is a large diurnal range of about 14 °C during summer; this widens by several degrees during winter.
- To the west, in Gujarat, diverse climate conditions obtain. The winters are mild, pleasant, and dry with average daytime temperatures around 29 °C and nights around 12 °C with virtually full sun and clear nights. Summers are hot and dry with daytime temperatures around 41 °C and nights no lower than 29 °C. In the weeks before the monsoon temperatures are similar to the above, but high humidity makes the air more uncomfortable. Relief comes with the monsoon. Temperatures are around 35 °C but humidity is very high; nights are around 27 °C. Most of the rainfall occurs in this season, and the rain can cause severe floods. The sun is often occluded during the monsoon season.
- East of the Thar Desert, the Punjab-Haryana-Kathiawar region experiences a tropical and sub-tropical steppe climate. Haryana’s climate resembles other states of the northern plains: extreme summer heat of up to 50 °C and winter cold as low as 1 °C. May and June are hottest; December and January are coldest. Rainfall is varied, with the Shivalik Hills region being the wettest and the Aravali Hills region being the driest. About 80% of the rainfall occurs in the monsoon season of July–September, which can cause flooding. The Punjabi climate is also governed by extremes of hot and cold. Areas near the Himalayan foothills receive heavy rainfall whereas those eloigned from them are hot and dry. Punjab’s three-season climate sees summer months that span from mid-April to the end of June. Temperatures typically range from–2 °C to 40 °C, but can reach 47 °C in summer and −4 °C in winter. In this zone, a transitional climatic region separating tropical desert from humid sub-tropical savanna and forests, experiences temperatures that are less extreme than those of the desert. Average annual rainfall is 300–650 millimetres, but is very unreliable; as in much of the rest of India, the southwest monsoon accounts for most precipitation. Daily summer temperature maxima rise to around 40 °C; this results in natural vegetation typically comprising short, coarse grasses.
Most of Northeast India and much of North India are subject to a humid subtropical climate. Though they experience hot summers, temperatures during the coldest months may fall as low as 0 °C. Due to ample monsoon rains, India has only one subtype of this climate under the Köppen system: Cwa. In most of this region, there is very little precipitation during the winter, owing to powerful anticyclonic and katabatic (downward-flowing) winds from Central Asia.
Humid subtropical regions are subject to pronounced dry winters. Winter rainfall—and occasionally snowfall—is associated with large storm systems such as “Nor’westers” and “Western disturbances”; the latter are steered by westerlies towards the Himalayas. Most summer rainfall occurs during powerful thunderstorms associated with the southwest summer monsoon; occasional tropical cyclones also contribute. Annual rainfall ranges from less than 1,000 millimetres in the west to over 2,500 millimetres in parts of the northeast. As most of this region is far from the ocean, the wide temperature swings more characteristic of a continental climate predominate; the swings are wider than in those in tropical wet regions, ranging from 24 °C in north-central India to 27 °C in the east.
India’s northernmost areas are subject to a montane, or alpine, climate. In the Himalayas, the rate at which an air mass’s temperature falls per kilometre of altitude gained (the dry adiabatic lapse rate) is 9.8 °C/km. In terms of environmental lapse rate, ambient temperatures fall by 6.5 °C for every 1,000 metres rise in altitude. Thus, climates ranging from nearly tropical in the foothills to tundra above the snow line can coexist within several hundred metres of each other. Sharp temperature contrasts between sunny and shady slopes, high diurnal temperature variability, temperature inversions, and altitude-dependent variability in rainfall are also common.
The northern side of the western Himalayas, also known as the trans-Himalayan belt, has a cold desert climate. It is a region of barren, arid, frigid and wind-blown wastelands. Areas south of the Himalayas are largely protected from cold winter winds coming in from the Asian interior. The leeward side (northern face) of the mountains receives less rain.
The southern slopes of the western Himalayas, well-exposed to the monsoon, get heavy rainfall. Areas situated at elevations of 1,070–2,290 metres receive the heaviest rainfall, which decreases rapidly at elevations above 2,290 metres. Most precipitation occurs as snowfall during the late winter and spring months.The Himalayas experience their heaviest snowfall between December and February and at elevations above 1,500 metres. Snowfall increases with elevation by up to several dozen millimetres per 100 metre increase. Elevations above 6,000 metres never experience rain; all precipitation falls as snow.
- Winter, occurring from December to March. The year’s coldest months are December and January, when temperatures average around 10–15 °C (50–59 °F) in the northwest; temperatures rise as one proceeds towards the equator, peaking around 20–25 °C (68–77 °F) in mainland India’s southeast.
- Summeror pre-monsoon season, lasting from April to June (April to July in northwestern India). In western and southern regions, the hottest month is April; for northern regions of India, May is the hottest month. Temperatures average around 32–40 °C (90–104 °F) in most of the interior.
- Monsoonor rainy season, lasting from July to September. The season is dominated by the humid southwest summer monsoon, which slowly sweeps across the country beginning in late May or early June. Monsoon rains begin to recede from North India at the beginning of October. South India typically receives more rainfall.
- Post-monsoonor autumn season, lasting from October to November. In the northwest of India, October and November are usually cloudless. Tamil Nadu receives most of its annual precipitation in the northeast monsoon season.
The Himalayan states, being more temperate, experience an additional season, spring, which coincides with the first weeks of summer in southern India. Traditionally, Indians note six seasons or Ritu, each about two months long. These are the spring season, summer, monsoon season, autumn, winter and prevernal season. These are based on the astronomical division of the twelve months into six parts. The ancient Hindu calendar also reflects these seasons in its arrangement of months.
Once the monsoons subside, average temperatures gradually fall across India. As the Sun’s vertical rays move south of the equator, most of the country experiences moderately cool weather; temperatures change by about per degree of latitude. December and January are the coldest months, with mean temperatures of in Indian Himalayas. Mean temperatures are higher in the east and south.
In northwestern India region, virtually cloudless conditions prevail in October and November, resulting in wide diurnal temperature swings; as in much of the Deccan Plateau, they register at 16–20 °C. However, from January to February, “western disturbances” bring heavy bursts of rain and snow. These extra-tropical low-pressure systems originate in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. They are carried towards India by the subtropical westerlies, which are the prevailing winds blowing at North India’s range of latitude. Once their passage is hindered by the Himalayas, they are unable to proceed further, and they release significant precipitation over the southern Himalayas.
There is a huge variation in the climatic conditions of Himachal Pradesh due to variation in altitude (450–6500 metres). The climate varies from hot and subtropical humid (450–900 metres) in the southern low tracts, warm and temperate (900–1800 metres), cool and temperate (1900–2400 metres) and cold glacial and alpine (2400–4800 metres) in the northern and eastern elevated mountain ranges. By October, nights and mornings are very cold. Snowfall at elevations of nearly 3000 m is about 3 m and lasts from December start to March end. Elevations above 4500 m support perpetual snow. The spring season starts from mid February to mid April. The weather is pleasant and comfortable in the season. The rainy season starts at the end of the month of June. The landscape lushes green and fresh. During the season streams and natural springs are replenished. The heavy rains in July and August cause a lot of damage resulting in erosion, floods and landslides. Out of all the state districts, Dharamsala receives the highest rainfall; nearly about 3,400 mm. Spiti is the driest area of the state, where annual rainfall is below 50 mm. The six Himalayan states (Jammu and Kashmir in the extreme north, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Northern West Bengal and Arunachal Pradesh) experience heavy snowfall, Manipur and Nagaland are not located in the Himalayas but experience snowfall; in Jammu and Kashmir, blizzards occur regularly, disrupting travel and other activities.
The rest of North India, including the Indo-Gangetic Plain and Madhya Pradesh almost never receives snow. Temperatures in the plains occasionally fall below freezing, though never for more than one or two days. Winter highs in Delhi range from 16 to 21 °C. Nighttime temperatures average 2–8 °C. In the plains of Punjab, lows can fall below freezing, dropping to around −6 °C in Amritsar. Frost sometimes occurs, but the hallmark of the season is the notorious fog, which frequently disrupts daily life; fog grows thick enough to hinder visibility and disrupt air travel 15–20 days annually. In Bihar in middle of the Ganges plain, hot weather sets in and the summer lasts until the middle of June. The highest temperature is often registered in May which is the hottest time. Like the rest of the north, Bihar also experiences dust-storms, thunderstorms and dust raising winds during the hot season. Dust storms having a velocity of 48–64 km/h are most frequent in May and with second maximum in April and June. The hot winds (loo) of Bihar plains blow during April and May with an average velocity of 8–16 km/h. These hot winds greatly affect human comfort during this season. Rain follows. The rainy season begins in June. The rainiest months are July and August. The rains are the gifts of the southwest monsoon. There are in Bihar three distinct areas where rainfall exceeds 1,800 mm. Two of them are in the northern and northwestern portions of the state; the third lies in the area around Netarhat. The southwest monsoon normally withdraws from Bihar in the first week of October. Eastern India’s climate is much milder, experiencing moderately warm days and cool nights. Highs range from 23 °C in Patna to 26 °C in Kolkata (Calcutta); lows average from 9 °C in Patna to 14 °C in Kolkata. In Madhya Pradesh which is towards the south-western side of the Gangetic Plain similar conditions prevail albeit with much less humidity levels. Capital Bhopal averages low of 9 °C and high of 24 °C.
Frigid winds from the Himalayas can depress temperatures near the Brahmaputra River. The Himalayas have a profound effect on the climate of the Indian subcontinent and the Tibetan plateau by preventing frigid and dry Arctic winds from blowing south into the subcontinent, which keeps South Asia much warmer than corresponding temperate regions in the other continents. It also forms a barrier for the monsoon winds, keeping them from travelling northwards, and causing heavy rainfall in the Terai region instead. The Himalayas are indeed believed to play an important role in the formation of Central Asian deserts such as the Taklamakan and Gobi. The mountain ranges prevent western winter disturbances in Iran from travelling further east, resulting in much snow in Kashmir and rainfall for parts of Punjab and northern India. Despite the Himalayas being a barrier to the cold northerly winter winds, the Brahmaputra valley receives part of the frigid winds, thus lowering the temperature in Northeast India and Bangladesh. The Himalayas, which are often called “The Roof of the World”, contain the greatest area of glaciers and permafrost outside of the poles. Ten of Asia’s largest rivers flow from there. The two Himalayan states in the east, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, receive substantial snowfall. The extreme north of West Bengal centred on Darjeeling experiences snowfall, but only rarely.
In South India, particularly the hinterlands of Maharashtra, parts of Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh, somewhat cooler weather prevails. Minimum temperatures in western Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh hover around 10 °C; in the southern Deccan Plateau, they reach 16 °C. Coastal areas—especially those near the Coromandel Coast and adjacent low-elevation interior tracts—are warm, with daily high temperatures of 30 °C and lows of around 21 °C. The Western Ghats, including the Nilgiri Range, are exceptional; lows there can fall below freezing. This compares with a range of 12–14 °C on the Malabar Coast; there, as is the case for other coastal areas, the Indian Ocean exerts a strong moderating influence on weather. The region averages 800 millimetres per year, most of which falls between October and December. The topography of the Bay of Bengal and the staggered weather pattern prevalent during the season favours the northeast monsoon, which has a tendency to cause cyclones and hurricanes rather than steady precipitation. As a result, the coast is hit by what can mildly be termed as inclement weather almost every year between October and January.
Summer in northwestern India starts from April and ends in July, and in the rest of the country from March to June. The temperatures in the north rise as the vertical rays of the Sun reach the Tropic of Cancer. The hottest month for the western and southern regions of the country is April; for most of North India, it is May. Temperatures of 50 °C and higher have been recorded in parts of India during this season. Another striking feature of summer is the Loo (wind). These are strong, gusty, hot, dry winds that blow during the day in India. Direct exposure to these winds may be fatal. In cooler regions of North India, immense pre-monsoon squall-line thunderstorms, known locally as “Nor’westers”, commonly drop large hailstones. In Himachal Pradesh, Summer lasts from mid April till the end of June and most parts become very hot (except in alpine zone which experience mild summer) with the average temperature ranging from 28 °C to 32 °C. Winter lasts from late November till mid March. Snowfall is generally common in alpine tracts that are above 2,200 metres, especially those in the higher- and trans-Himalayan regions. Near the coast the temperature hovers around 36 °C, and the proximity of the sea increases the level of humidity. In southern India, the temperatures are higher on the east coast by a few degrees compared to the west coast.
By May, most of the Indian interior experiences mean temperatures over 32 °C, while maximum temperatures often exceed 40 °C. In the hot months of April and May, western disturbances, with their cooling influence, may still arrive, but rapidly diminish in frequency as summer progresses. Notably, a higher frequency of such disturbances in April correlates with a delayed monsoon onset (thus extending summer) in northwest India. In eastern India, monsoon onset dates have been steadily advancing over the past several decades, resulting in shorter summers there.
Altitude affects the temperature to a large extent, with higher parts of the Deccan Plateau and other areas being relatively cooler. Hill stations, such as Ootacamund (“Ooty”) in the Western Ghats and Kalimpong in the eastern Himalayas, with average maximum temperatures of around 25 °C, offer some respite from the heat. At lower elevations, in parts of northern and western India, a strong, hot, and dry wind known as the loo blows in from the west during the daytime; with very high temperatures, in some cases up to around 45 °C; it can cause fatal cases of sunstroke. Tornadoes may also occur, concentrated in a corridor stretching from northeastern India towards Pakistan. They are rare, however; only several dozen have been reported since 1835.
The southwest summer monsoon, a four-month period when massive convective thunderstorms dominate India’s weather, is Earth’s most productive wet season. A product of southeast trade winds originating from a high-pressure mass centred over the southern Indian Ocean, the monsoonal torrents supply over 80% of India’s annual rainfall. Attracted by a low-pressure region centred over South Asia, the mass spawns surface winds that ferry humid air into India from the southwest. These inflows ultimately result from a northward shift of the local jet stream, which itself results from rising summer temperatures over Tibet and the Indian subcontinent. The void left by the jet stream, which switches from a route just south of the Himalayas to one tracking north of Tibet, then attracts warm, humid air.
The main factor behind this shift is the high summer temperature difference between Central Asia and the Indian Ocean. This is accompanied by a seasonal excursion of the normally equatorial intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ), a low-pressure belt of highly unstable weather, northward towards India. This system intensified to its present strength as a result of the Tibetan Plateau’s uplift, which accompanied the Eocene–Oligocene transition event, a major episode of global cooling and aridification which occurred 34–49 Ma.
The southwest monsoon arrives in two branches: the Bay of Bengal branch and the Arabian Sea branch. The latter extends towards a low-pressure area over the Thar Desert and is roughly three times stronger than the Bay of Bengal branch. The monsoon typically breaks over Indian territory by around 25 May, when it lashes the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal. It strikes the Indian mainland around 1 June near the Malabar Coast of Kerala. By 9 June, it reaches Mumbai; it appears over Delhi by 29 June. The Bay of Bengal branch, which initially tracks the Coromandal Coast northeast from Cape Comorin to Orissa, swerves to the northwest towards the Indo-Gangetic Plain. The Arabian Sea branch moves northeast towards the Himalayas. By the first week of July, the entire country experiences monsoon rain; on average, South India receives more rainfall than North India. However, Northeast India receives the most precipitation. Monsoon clouds begin retreating from North India by the end of August; it withdraws from Mumbai by 5 October. As India further cools during September, the southwest monsoon weakens. By the end of November, it has left the country.
Monsoon rains impact the health of the Indian economy; as Indian agriculture employs 600 million people and comprises 20% of the national GDP, good monsoons correlate with a booming economy. Weak or failed monsoons (droughts) result in widespread agricultural losses and substantially hinder overall economic growth. Yet such rains reduce temperatures and can replenish groundwater tables, rivers.
During the post-monsoon months of October to December, a different monsoon cycle, the northeast (or “retreating”) monsoon, brings dry, cool, and dense air masses to large parts of India. Winds spill across the Himalayas and flow to the southwest across the country, resulting in clear, sunny skies. Though the India Meteorological Department (IMD) and other sources refers to this period as a fourth (“post-monsoon”) season, other sources designate only three seasons. Depending on location, this period lasts from October to November, after the southwest monsoon has peaked. Less and less precipitation falls, and vegetation begins to dry out. In most parts of India, this period marks the transition from wet to dry seasonal conditions. Average daily maximum temperatures range between 28 and 34 °C.
The northeast monsoon, which begins in September, lasts through the post-monsoon seasons, and only ends in March. It carries winds that have already lost their moisture out to the ocean (opposite from the summer monsoon). They cross India diagonally from northeast to southwest. However, the large indentation made by the Bay of Bengal into India’s eastern coast means that the flows are humidified before reaching Cape Comorin and rest of Tamil Nadu, meaning that the state, and also some parts of Kerala, experience significant precipitation in the post-monsoon and winter periods. However, parts of West Bengal, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Mumbai also receive minor precipitation from the northeast monsoon.