The High Desert Climate

We live in the high desert in Northeast Utah,  where the winters are long and cold and the summers are short and hot. It’s a continental climate.

I first learned about continental climates when I was a student in Finland for a semester.

In one of my classes I learned that there are places in Siberia that are 40°C (104°F) in summer and -40°C (-40°F) in winter. That’s quite the mercurial mood swing! I never dreamed I’d one day be living in a place with a similar annual range of temperatures.

It gets to be 100°F or so in the hottest part of summer, but the nights always cool off. Why? The lack of humidity allows the temperature to swing wildly.

Humidity helps keep a steady temperature, which is why coastal areas have milder weather. In the desert, there is little if any humidity, so nothing to hold the heat in. This is a boon during summer – allowing things to cool off at night – but also makes it colder during the winter.

When my father-in-law was growing up here, winter temperatures used to drop to a frigid -30°F. Now the USDA hardiness zones have changed and it’s “only” supposed to drop to -20°F.

Being extremely cold-sensitive, luckily for me I have only experienced lows of about -10°F over the past years that I’ve lived here. Fortunately, the lower humidity during winter makes it feel WARMER than it really is.

Another factor that influences our weather here is mountains. We live in a rain shadow. When we drive west over the mountains to Salt Lake City, the vegetation becomes somewhat more lush and the winters are a bit shorter. The mountains keep some of the moisture from moving our way.

Although being cold is not my favorite state, I’ve discovered that I much prefer dry cold to humid cold. Days in the 20’s out here in the dry desert seem much more comfortable than days in the 30’s in my native NC.

From a sustainability perspective, respecting the nature of this climate is a necessity, requiring appropriate clothing in summer and winter, when the temperatures are at their most extreme.

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