Longyearbyen is the world’s northernmost city, at a latitude of 78 degrees north. For it’s location, however, it is warmer than it should be. This is thanks to the gulf stream, which saves Svalbard from the grasp of the surrounding Arctic, and prevents the island from becoming permanently frozen over, despite it’s close proximity to the North Pole.
That does not mean, however, that the climate of Svalbard is by any stretch of the imagination, mild, though in the summer there are the few days that are pleasant enough for adventures outside without a heavy winter jacket, bathed in blue skies and midnight sunshine. Funnily enough, Mike and I got rather horribly sunburnt whilst out kayaking, in mid July. In the Arctic circle! On Svalbard, of all places, it is important to come prepared for the environment in which you are about to find yourself.
In Longyearbyen, the average temperatures range from -15°C during the winter months, to 6°C during the brief summer. The record low temperature was recorded during March, 1986, when the thermometers plummeted to a bone chilling -46.3°C. On the other end of the scale, the highest temperature was recorded during the summer of 1979, in July; a beautiful 21.3°C.
The weather during the Arctic night, in Svalbard, is without a doubt, tough. For long and quite often uninterrupted periods, the temperatures can hover at around -25°C, with a wind-chill factor that can make the environment seem even more uncomfortable, and inhospitable. In the summer, you’ll find most days are rather cloudy, with thick cloud cover and sometimes dense fog and mist hiding away the midnight sun.
Here’s a summary of what to expect at any time of the year:
Spring (March – May):
Spring is the time of year when the sun begins to once again rise above the horizon. The days quite quickly increase in length, and by the end of April, the midnight sun has once more returned to thaw the frozen tundra. Life returns to Svalbard – the migratory birds appear, and seals, whales, and reindeer, make themselves known. Although there might still be snow on the ground, this is a wonderful time for exploration and adventure, with pastel horizons and gentle sunrises.
Summer (June – August):
Summer is when the colour truly returns in full force to Svalbard. The small percentage of land that is not covered in glaciers, becomes home to a magical variety of delicate wildflowers, and the Arctic tundra glistens with fragile life once again. The Arctic Terns use the opportunity to lay their eggs, the reindeer are grazing, and can quite often be found around town, and there are a whole host of summer activities to enjoy. The summer is short, but spectacular, and the golden glow of the midnight sun against mirror-like fjords and glittering glaciers is an unforgettable sight to behold. From April 15th to August 26th, the sun does not set below the horizon. In midsummer, it becomes impossible to tell day from night.
Autumn: (September – October)
Summer is a brief respite on Svalbard. Before too long, the days begin to grow shorter. Autumn is magical, but increasingly harsh. In early Autumn, the landscape bathes in the constant orange glow of sunset, whilst the ground begins to freeze over once more. The camp-site shuts, and eventually, the temperatures reach 0°C, the land becomes covered in a light sprinkling of snow and everybody starts to prepare themselves for the approaching two month long night, and to say goodbye to the sun for another year.
Winter: (November – February)
By the end of October, the sun has once again sunk below the horizon. The next two months, from November 14th, to January 29th, will be in complete darkness, and the perfect time to experience the Arctic winter at it’s best – when the sky is clear, the northern lights make for a magical, and unforgettable, experience. Even at daytime, in the depths of winter, it is possible to spot this mysterious, beautiful, light-show. The general consensus is that February is the most spectacular winter month to visit Svalbard. Make sure to wrap up warm, though. The temperatures are low enough to cause serious damage.