It is often said, and usually with a dose of light-hearted banter, that the British excel at the following things: drinking tea, maintaining a stiff upper lip, and complaining about the weather. Indeed, there was once a time when the latter of those stereotypes was something I, myself, had been party to. And then I moved to the United States. To the Midwest. In winter.
British expats such as myself soon come to learn that—for better or worse—winter weather in the U.S. can be extremely different from that of the U.K. America, being the vast, expansive landscape that it is, does not always conform to the sunny, beachfront image that many Brits have in their heads. On the other hand, such an image is not itself altogether absent from the American winter postcard. It all depends on where you live. And so, with that in mind, here is our regional guide to U.S. winter weather.
With a total area equal to seven times that of the entire United Kingdom, Alaska deserves its own entry on this list. Moreover, it commands special attention for the very reason that the coldest temperature ever recorded in the U.S. was done so in the Last Frontier state. In January, 1971, Prospect Creek Camp saw the temperature dip to -80°F. For those keeping count, that is a mind-blowing -62.2°C. Of course, this is the U.S. at its absolute most extreme.
But even the state capital of Juneau has an average of around 27°F (-2.7°C) throughout winter—almost 13 (°F) colder than the same average for the U.K. Add to this the fact that Juneau receives an average 86.7 inches of snow per year—287% more than the average for the entire U.S.—and it becomes clear that you’re going to need to pack a few extra scarves.
If all that winter chill sounds a little overbearing, you might want to consider spending your winters in the state of Hawaii. The Aloha State boasts comfortable temperatures year-round, with the capital of Honolulu averaging in the low-to-mid seventies (roughly 20-24°C) during the winter season.
With the average temperature in Honolulu remaining warm throughout the year, it is one of those destinations that truly helps expats put that British weather behind them. This, it would seem, is more than can be said for the next entry on the list.
Of all the regions in the United States, the Pacific Northwest is the one whose climate is perhaps most commonly compared to that of the U.K. Not only are its winter temperatures fairly similar but, on a list of U.S. cities with more than 180 days of solid overcast per year, Seattle and Portland ranked first and second, with 226 and 222 days respectively. These figures are roughly in line with the average annual cloud cover in the United Kingdom.
Also, like the U.K., Portland doesn’t see an inordinate amount of snow (with the 2008/09 winter a notable recent exception). Indeed, in two out of the first five years of the 21st century, Portland saw absolutely no snow at all—something that a lot of people in the next place can identify with.
You probably won’t be too surprised to read this, but California, and particularly the southern portion of the state, does not have to worry much about snow. And in places like San Francisco and Los Angeles, the average winter temperatures remain—very comfortably—in the low-to-high 50s.
However, if you’re looking to escape the rain of the U.K., be warned that the months between November and April collectively comprise what is known as the “rainy period.”
Stretching from Montana in the north all the way down to Arizona and New Mexico in the south, much of the mountain region bears a surprisingly similar winter temperature average wherever you go. For example, the average winter temperature in Helena, Montana is roughly 30°F (-1°C)—an average that is similar to that of Salt Lake City, UT, Denver, CO, and even Santa Fe, NM.
However, the region does see a certain amount of variation when it comes to snowfall, with Arizona and southern Nevada receiving little snow. Compare this to the Rocky Mountain terrains of Colorado, Utah, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and New Mexico, where significant snowfall is seen on and around the mountains.
There is one word that springs to mind when I think of winters in the Midwest: frigid. Where I live in Indianapolis, the average winter temperature is somewhere in the region of 32°F (0°C)—the exact freezing point of water. Motorists, in particular, discover this last point rather quickly, as snow routinely freezes against the windshield, prompting the frequent use of an ice scraper.
Of course, I’d be woefully remiss if I didn’t mention that other places in the Midwest are actually much colder. Up north and around the Great Lakes, Michigan, Chicago and especially much of Wisconsin have unspeakably cold winters, with the city of Madison, WI seeing average winter temperatures of around 23°F (-5°C).
But even this is not the coldest sub-region of the Midwest. In Bismarck, North Dakota, the average winter temperature—and my fingers are freezing just typing this—is in the region of 17°F (-8.33°C). Bear in mind that these are just averages. In January, 2014, the very same city saw its lowest temperature of the year: -23°F (-30.5°C). For the sake of perspective, this is 3°C colder than the U.K.’s all-time lowest temperature.
And if all this doesn’t make you want to go running for the Rocky Mountains, the Midwest also sees a lot of snow each winter. Particularly hard hit are those areas located near to the Great Lakes, which produce what meteorologists refer to as lake effect snow.
Because the Great Lakes span hundreds of miles across the far northern United States, Pennsylvania and upstate New York are not themselves safe from lake effect snow. In fact, places such as Buffalo, NY, and Lancaster, PA, received 7 feet of snow just this past November.
And if you think the situation is much better in popular expat destinations such as New York City, think again. While the average winter temperature in the Big Apple is little different from that of Indianapolis, New Yorkers—along with millions of Americans up and down the east coast—have another weather phenomenon to deal with: Nor’easters. Those with a decent short-term memory might recall the Nor’easter of November 2012 that leveled much of the eastern seaboard soon after the costly impact of Hurricane Sandy.
Another popular expat destination is Florida. Perhaps this is due, in part, to the fact that snow is incredibly rare and winter temperatures average around the low-to-mid 60s (°F).
But the Sunshine State is not; Americans will be quick to point out, entirely indicative of the South. While most Southern states boast average winter temperatures between 40°F and 50°F, there is, nonetheless, a greater chance of finding snow the more north you head.
Of course, even in these parts, snow is relatively rare enough that its sudden emergence can prompt locals to think the world is ending. Recently, a friend of mine in Atlanta, GA, recounted a story of how a thin carpet of snow caused the shutdown of various schools throughout the city.
Where do you spend your winter?Read More