Antarctica: weather and what to expect when

From the depths of winter, when the continent is plunged into perpetual darkness to summer’s midnight sun and milder temperatures, Antarctica’s weather is like no other. While it might be icy and cold all year round, the Antarctic climate is one of dramatic contrast in many ways. You can expect a striking ice-clad landscape no matter the time of year, but what else do different months bring? Here’s all you need to know about the weather in Antarctica and what time of year is best to visit.

What’s the climate like in different parts of Antarctica?

With such a vast distance between the South Pole and the northern point of the Antarctic Peninsula (1860 miles, to be precise), the climate varies all the way along — as does the landscape. Low plateaus of sheet-ice give way to snow-capped mountains, while rocky outcrops line the Antarctic Peninsula coast. Each area has distinct weather properties that go far beyond being ‘a bit chilly’.

In the centre of Antarctica, high altitudes and clear skies bring extreme temperatures, often dipping as low as -60°C. Here, snow and rain are rare, creating the dry, frozen tundra that many of us picture when we think about the White Continent. However, sub-Antarctic islands, like South Georgia, are home to milder temperatures. It’s not uncommon to see snow and falling ice crystals, with strong winds throughout the year.

Does it rain in Antarctica?

Antarctica is a vast desert. Made up of glaciers, icebergs, and ice sheets, the temperature is cold enough to keep the land frozen all year round. The air is too cold for rain, meaning any precipitation falls as snow or loose ice crystals.

However, snowfall is rare — only two inches of precipitation fall across Antarctica every year. That which does usually builds up on the compacted sheet ice as it’s too cold for it to melt away. Some loose particles in very low temperatures may blow around, giving the impression of precipitation.

How many seasons does Antarctica have?

Unlike most places around the world, Antarctica only has two seasons: summer and winter. There are no transitional spring and autumn seasons, making the contrast between the two halves rather dramatic.

What to expect from Antarctic weather throughout the year:

Summer spans November to March, giving visitors five months to experience the continent’s awe-inspiring scenery and fascinating wildlife. Winter is a very different story…

April to October

Winter in the Antarctic is unlike any other. Darkness falls across the continent, with nights stretching on for weeks. Between April and October, there are no visitors. Thick sea ice makes travelling to Antarctica treacherous and unfeasible. No flights or ships can make it onto the continent; only scientists venture out into the night-clad wilderness, characterised by average temperatures of -45° C.

November

As winter begins to retreat and the days become longer, the weather remains unpredictable. But the sea ice disperses, making the continent accessible again. Visiting Antarctica in November can be a magical experience. The beginning of summer is the best time to view dramatic icy vistas. You can expect to see a layer of crisp, powdery snow, untouched by human activity. In-land, the weather is still extreme, but on the northern coast, temperatures average around -6° C. Experience enchanting golden sunsets, catch a glimpse of majestic humpback whales on the Drake Passage, and witness penguin courtship displays.

December

For many, December is the best month to visit Antarctica. The continent welcomes the summer sun, with daylight spanning 20 to 24 hours a day — giving you plenty of time to explore the sparkling glaciers. Blue skies abound, though the temperature will still be low (averaging 0°C) and blizzards can still occur in some areas. December is an active month for Antarctica’s wildlife. Penguin chicks will be hatching while seals try to find a mate.

January

In January, Antarctica’s average temperatures are similar to December — around 0°C on the Antarctic Peninsula.

Seeing the ‘midnight sun’ is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. During the peak of Antarctica’s summer, the sun remains above the horizon 24 hours a day. While you may see it rise and fall slightly, there’s no true sunrise or sunset – just constant daylight. Antarctica is the only location in the summer hemisphere where the phenomenon occurs.

February

Throughout December and January, the strong summer sun weakens the pack ice. By February, it’s weak enough to allow visitors to travel to the southern parts of the Peninsula. The days are still long, and the bright light makes this time of year a favourite of wildlife photographers who will be able to capture pictures of adorable penguin chicks as they roam.

February is also a great time for whale spotting. Humpback and minke whales are most common, along with orcas. But if you’re lucky, you might also see blue whales and sperm whales who come to feast on the abundant krill.

March

March is Antarctica’s late summer period and is the last opportunity to visit before winter descends. Days become shorter, with night gradually creeping back in. Around mid-March, you may notice the weather becoming increasingly colder and unpredictable.

However, there’s still plenty to see and enjoy. The penguin chicks, now adolescents, might be making their way out to sea but don’t worry, March is the perfect time to sight whales and orcas who remain in Antarctic waters before migrating further north.

While early summer showcases fresh white snow, March brings a splash of colour with pink and green algae in the water.

Antarctic expeditions with Swan Hellenic

Antarctica may be inaccessible during winter, but there are five glorious summer months in which you can experience the magnificent Antarctic scenery. Whether you choose to go in the early summer to see the untouched snowy landscape as it emerges from winter or travel towards the end of the season to enjoy the varied wildlife and milder temperatures, you can travel in luxurious style with Swan Hellenic.

Our expedition cruises give you the opportunity to explore this magical part of the world, with trips onshore to see penguins, seals, and other incredible species. Whatever time of year you go, you can enjoy the comfort of a sophisticated room where you can warm up after a day of sightseeing. It’s important to remember that Antarctica is cold all year round, so you want to make sure you pack suitable clothing. Discover more about what to bring in our guide on what you need to know before your first Antarctica cruise.

Ready to embark on an adventure like no other? Take a look at our Antarctica discovery cruises.

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