What to Expect from the Weather in Scandinavia

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Explore the dynamic climate of Scandinavia, where surprising mildness in winter contrasts with its northerly latitude. Shaped by ocean currents, diverse geography, and unexpected summer warmth, this is the weather in Scandinavia.

The climate of northern Europe, particularly Scandinavia, is renowned for its perceived chill, yet the temperatures defy the expectations set by its far northern position.

A cold winter day in Kiruna, Sweden.
A cold winter day in Kiruna, Sweden.

Contrary to the icy landscapes often depicted in popular media, Scandinavia offers a climate marked by its variety and unexpected mildness during the colder months.

Given the northerly latitudes of the Scandinavian peninsula, one might anticipate relentless cold throughout much of the year. However, while snow blankets the region in winter, the cold is often not as severe as many imagine.

Introducing the Climate of Scandinavia

This phenomenon can be attributed to several climatic influences that temper the harshness expected of such high latitudes. The Gulf Stream, a powerful Atlantic ocean current, plays a pivotal role in moderating Scandinavian temperatures.

Its warm waters, extending northwards along the Norwegian coast, provide much-needed heat and prevent temperatures from plummeting as they do in similar latitudes across the Atlantic in Canada.

This maritime influence introduces a surprising mildness to the winters, particularly noticeable along the coastlines.

In addition to oceanic effects, the varied topography of the region from flat Danish farmlands to the rugged Norwegian fjords and high Swedish plateaus also contributes to the climatic diversity.

This geographic variety results in a mosaic of microclimates, making the weather in Scandinavia an intricate and fascinating topic to explore.

The wonderful setting of Svolvær in Lofoten. Photo: David Nikel.
Norway’s Lofoten is much milder than you might expect. Photo: David Nikel.

As we delve deeper into the specifics of Scandinavian weather patterns, we'll uncover how these elements combine to create a climate that is as diverse as it is unexpected, influencing everything from daily life to seasonal activities in the region.

How Cold is Scandinavia?

Firstly, temperature and weather varies massively across the region. The distance between the cycle paths of the Danish countryside and the cross-country skiing tracks of Arctic Norway is massive.

To give you a feel for the climate in general, let us look at the Norwegian capital city, Oslo.

The hottest month is July with an average temperature of 18°C (64°F), while the coldest month is January with an average temperature of -3°C (27°F). The wettest months tend to be August and September.

Although the climate can vary massively, it doesn't necessarily follow that the farther north you travel, the colder it gets. It all comes down to the geography of Scandinavia.

For example, Norway's Lofoten archipelago has incredibly mild winters considering its latitude equals that of northern Canada. As such, the real difference between mild and cold occurs not from north to south, but from coast to inland.

Let’s take a closer look at how that works, by seeing where the coldest parts of the region are.

The Coldest Parts of Scandinavia

In Norway, the area around Røros close to the Swedish border and the inland parts of Finnmark such as Kautokeino and Karasjok are normally the coldest regions.

Temperatures here can drop below -30°C several times during the winter, and can remain below freezing for weeks or even months at a time.

Winter scene from Røros, Norway. Photo: David Nikel.
Winter scene from Røros, Norway. Photo: David Nikel.

The coldest temperature ever recorded in Sweden was below -50°C (-58°F) although the temperatures haven't got that low since the turn of the century, and only then in the remote Arctic region.

Normally in the north, temperatures of below -20°C (-4°F) are considered cold days, while temperatures in the bigger cities tend to drop below -10°C (14°F) a couple of times each winter.

Denmark's flat countryside means much of the country experiences similar weather. Denmark's lowest temperature ever recorded was “only” -31.2°C (-24.2°F), in Hørsted in the north-west of the country in January, 1982.

The Gulf Stream in Scandinavia

Heat generated by the Gulf Stream and its extension into the Norwegian Sea is the most important reason why Norway experiences a milder climate than Sweden.

Without the Gulf Stream and the westerly wind belt, Norway would most likely be an average of ten degrees celsius colder than it is, with some experts saying even more.

The Earth gets more heat from the Sun at the equator than at the poles. This imbalance is corrected by heat being continuously transported towards higher latitudes via large-scale sea breezes and ocean currents, most famously the Gulf Stream.

The warm current on the clean surface is balanced by a colder, southbound returning current in the Atlantic Ocean. The source of the heat that the Gulf Stream brings to the north is the sun.

This must be in balance with the strength of the current for the system to remain stable. Because of this, some experts are predicting trouble ahead due to climate change.

Scandinavia in the Winter

Having said that, parts of the region do get incredibly cold during the winter! Many parts of Norway and Sweden are guaranteed snow for months every year, most notably the areas farthest from the coast.

In the case of Sweden, this means the majority of the central and northern parts of the country. Temperatures in most parts of both countries can dip below freezing point for weeks at a time.

The Danish winter is more temperate, but frost and snow are still to be expected. January and February are the coldest months, with temperatures averaging around 0°C (32°F).

Although living farther south than many of their fellow Scandis, Danes still suffer from a lack of light due to the cloudy skies.

Scandinavia in the Summer

While the mildness of the winters in Scandinavia often surprises visitors, the summer season brings its own unexpected delights and challenges.

Trondheim in the summertime.
Trondheim in the summertime.

Scandinavian summers can be surprisingly warm, with temperatures occasionally soaring to 30°C (86°F). More typically, however, the mercury hovers between a pleasant 15°C to 20°C (59°F to 68°F).

The capricious nature of the summer weather, while frustrating for those trying to plan vacations, also adds to the region's charm. Those fortunate enough to experience Scandinavia during a warm spell are treated to some truly spectacular natural beauty.

The Norwegian coast, with its dramatic cliffs and bustling harbors, shines under the clear blue skies, while the tranquil waters of a Swedish lake invite visitors to relax and unwind in serene surroundings.

Yet, this unpredictability means that a hot, sunny day can emerge unexpectedly anytime from late spring through to early autumn.

Forecasting such variations is more an art than a precise science, influenced by a complex interplay of regional climatic systems and broader atmospheric conditions.

Extended daylight is another hallmark of Scandinavian summers, particularly as one travels further north.

In places like northern Sweden and Norway, the phenomenon known as the midnight sun provides 24 hours of daylight for several weeks, creating a unique opportunity to maximize outdoor activities.

Whether it's hiking through the lush, green forests of Finland or fishing in the crystal-clear waters of a Norwegian fjord, the extended days allow tourists and locals alike to enjoy an extended play of light and nature.

Cultural festivals and celebrations are rampant during these months, taking full advantage of the long days and milder weather. From Sweden's Midsummer festival to music and film festivals across Denmark, the region buzzes with activity.

However, it's not all sunshine; the weather can swiftly change to cool and rainy conditions, particularly in coastal areas influenced by the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. These changes not only affect outdoor plans but also the flora and fauna of the region, which have adapted to such swift shifts in the weather.

Despite the challenges posed by its variable climate, summer in Scandinavia remains a highly attractive season for its vibrant landscapes, cultural richness, and the endless possibilities for adventure and relaxation that the extended daylight hours bring.

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About David Nikel

Originally from the UK, David now lives in Trondheim and was the original founder of Life in Norway back in 2011. He now works as a professional writer on all things Scandinavia.

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2 thoughts on “What to Expect from the Weather in Scandinavia”

  1. Does windchill get discussed or is that more of an american idea? Being from Minnesota, windchill is a big deal in January/February. It drives our temps down so it “feels” like -30°f.


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