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Climate in Poland
Poland has a moderate climate with both maritime and continental elements. This is due to humid Atlantic air which collides over its territory with dry air from the Eurasian interior. As a result, the weather tends to be capricious and the seasons may look quite different in consecutive years. This is particularly true for winters, which are either wet, of the oceanic type, or - less often - sunny, of the continental type. Generally, in north and west Poland the climate is predominantly maritime, with gentle, humid winters and cool, rainy summers, while the eastern part of the country has distinctly continental climate with harsh winters and hotter, drier summers.


Generally, Poland receives all kinds of air masses typical of the northern hemisphere. This results in a variable climate and considerable problems with weather forecasting. Poland's climate is also characterized by substantial weather changes in consecutive years, caused by disturbances in the pattern of main air masses coming to the country. Summer may be hot and dry a few times in a row and then it becomes cool and wet. This phenomenon tends to happen in several-year cycles.


Poland's climate is also strongly influenced by the lowland topography of this part of Europe, stretching from France to Ukraine. Not stopped by any natural barriers, air masses move quickly from the Atlantic or North Sea. Another factor is the country's location, far from vast water bodies (the Atlantic Ocean) and close to extensive land areas (Eurasia). The Baltic Sea is a major contributor to the climate of north Poland while the southern part of the country is also affected by the Black Sea.

Winds: the sea breeze and the halny


The main pressure systems that affect the weather are the Icelandic low (stronger in winter) and the Azores anticyclone (more active in summer) as well as the changing atmospheric fronts from Asia: the East Asian high in winter and the South Asian low in summer. For a major part of the year Poland has predominantly west circulation of winds, caused by the eastward movement of barometric lows from the Atlantic. As a result, on 60 percent of all windy days the winds are from the west, blowing mainly from the area stretching between the Czech Republic and Scandinavia. In the eastern part of the country, the percentage of easterly winds is higher, while in the mountains, southerly winds occur more frequently.


The wind pattern is not uniform throughout the year. In summer months, that is from July to September, the winds are mainly westerly, whereas in winter, notably in December and January, easterly winds prevail. In the transitory seasons, both winds occur roughly with the same frequency.


The winds in Poland are typically weak to moderate, their speed ranging from 2 to 10 m/s. Strong and very strong winds occur at the seaside, causing storms, and in the mountains, where their speed may exceed 30 m/s. Hurricanes that uproot trees and blow off roofs are rather unusual.
With its diversified topography, Poland also has local winds. Along the Baltic coast, on a cloudless summer day you can experience a pleasant, invigorating sea breeze which occurs during the day and is felt about 10km inland. At night its direction reverses: the air moves from the cooler land towards the warmer sea, causing the land breeze.


In the mountains, there are mountain-valley winds. The best-known one is the halny, which blows in the Tatras and has been the subject of many poems and paintings. This kind of wind is not unique to Poland, though; it occurs in all mountains around the world and is called the föhn.
The halny is strong and gusty and its effects are higher temperature and lower air humidity on the leeward slopes. It develops when moving air is stopped by a mountain range and forced to rise. The halny is a nuisance for people as it lowers their mental and physical fitness and makes them irritable. It is strong enough to break trees, sometimes over large areas, blow off roofs and knock over fences. In winter it causes sudden thaws leading to floods.

Cloudiness and precipitation


A visible effect of the collisions of air masses above Poland is cloudiness. The number of cloudy days is between 60 and 70 percent, which is relatively high. The most cloudy regions are the lake districts in the north and the Sudetes; the least cloudy are Wielkopolska and the Silesian Lowland. The average number of cloudy days a year, with the sky more than 80% overcast, is 120-160; for sunny days, with cloudiness below 20%, it is 30-50.
A visible effect of the collisions of air masses above Poland is cloudiness. The number of cloudy days is between 60 and 70 percent, which is relatively high. The most cloudy regions are the lake districts in the north and the Sudetes; the least cloudy are Wielkopolska and the Silesian Lowland. The average number of cloudy days a year, with the sky more than 80% overcast, is 120-160; for sunny days, with cloudiness below 20%, it is 30-50.


The heaviest precipitation in Poland was recorded in June 1973 in the Tatra's Hala Gasienicowa. During one rain as much as 30cm of water fell. With Poland's predominantly westerly winds, the highest precipitation occurs on western slopes of mountains and hills. In the Carpathians and Sudetes, the annual precipitation is 800-1400mm. In the lowlands and uplands, it ranges between 400mm and 750mm. Similar levels are recorded in the Pomeranian and Masurian lake districts. This is caused by the proximity of the Baltic Sea, from which humid sea air flows east. The lowest precipitation occurs in the eastern part of Wielkopolska and in Kujawy, a region lying in the rain shadow of the Pomeranian Lake District.

Occasionally, Poland witnesses extraordinary precipitation. In 1901, when winds brought dust from Sahara, a black-brown rain fell. 71 years later the same phenomenon was responsible for orange snow in Zakopane. The maximum precipitation is in summer. At this time of the year it is on average 2-3 times higher than in winter (in the Carpathians, as much as four times higher). The smallest seasonal differences are recorded in the coastal lowlands.


Winter comes to Poland from the north-east. The average annual number of days with snowfall is 30-40 in the country's western and central part, and over 50 days in the north-east. It snows for 120 days a year in the Karkonosze and for 145 days in the Tatras. Snow stays the longest in the mountains (up to 200 days) and in north-west Poland (90-120 days). The western part of the country has the fewest days with snow cover (40-50).

Temperature: heat and frost


The average annual temperature in Poland ranges from 5-7*C in the hilly Pomeranian and Masurian lake districts and in the uplands to 8-10*C in the belt of the sub-Carpathian basins, the Silesian Lowland and the Wielkopolska Lowland. Only in the upper parts of the Carpathians and Sudetes is it about 0*C (Kasprowy Wierch, -0.8*C; Mt Sniezka, -0.4*C).


The hottest month is July with the average temperature standing at 16-19*C. The coldest area in July is the mountains, where the air temperature drops as the altitude increases (on average by 0.6*C for every 100 metres). In the summit areas of the Tatras and Sudetes, the average air temperature in July is just about 9*C. July is also cooler in areas adjacent to the Baltic (about 16*C), which is caused by the cold sea waters. The hottest area is central Poland, with the temperatures exceeding 18*C.


Hot days, when the temperature exceeds 25*C, occur from May to September. Their number increases the further you go from the sea. On average, there are only five such days at the Rozewie Cape and over 40 in the Sandomierz Basin and Lublin Upland.


The coldest month in Poland is January. Cold continental air flowing in from the east in January makes the eastern part of Poland one of the coldest areas in the country.


Sub-zero temperatures are recorded between November and March. The average annual number of frosty days ranges from about 25 along the lower Odra River and at the seaside to 65 in the Suwalki Lake District; in the mountains, it reaches 132 days on Mt Sniezka and 150 days on Kasprowy Wierch. The number of freeze days, typically in late spring and early autumn, ranges in the lowlands from 90 (at the seaside) to 130, while in the mountains it exceeds 200.


Varying air temperatures affect the length of the vegetation season, during which the average daily air temperature is at least 5*C. On average the vegetation season in Poland lasts about 200 days. It is the shortest in the mountains, in the eastern part of the Pomeranian Lake District and in the Masurian and Suwalki lake districts. It is the longest in the Silesian Lowland and along the lower Odra. The lowest temperatures ever recorded in Poland were -41*C in Siedlce (in 1940) and -40.6 *C in the Zywiec Basin (in 1929). The highest temperature, +40.2*C, was recorded in Pruszkow near Opole in 1921.

Seasons


Poland has as many as six distinct seasons. Apart from the four typical European seasons, there are also two periods described as early spring (przedwiosnie) and early winter (przedzimie). The seasons hardly conform to the calendar pattern. During the przedwiosnie, which is about a month long, the average daily air temperature ranges from 0*C to 5*C. Spring in Poland lasts usually about 60 days and comes from the west. The daily temperature at that time ranges from 5*C to 15*C. This is also when the vegetation season begins in Poland.


The summer, with temperatures above 20*C, begins in May and is about four months long. In autumn, the average temperature drops to between 5*C and 15*C. Almost every year, mid September sees the coming of Polish "Indian summer", which is a warm and sunny transition between summer and autumn. Leaves start to fall off the trees, but you can still feel the wafts of warmth.


Once the trees have lost all their leaves and the days are markedly shorter, przedzimie begins. Temperatures drop below 5*C. After about six weeks, winter comes and the frosts don't want to go away for a long time - until late February or early March, and even then przedwiosnie can be felt only in Pomerania and west Poland. The highlanders have to wait for it until mid March, while in the north east early spring arrives another two weeks later.


The seasons are of different length in every geographical region. For instance, summer in north Poland lasts about 2.5 months, while in the south east, centre and south west of the country it is over three months long. Winter length ranges from two months at the seaside and in the west to 3-4 months in the north east and even six months in the Tatras.


This climatic calendar is more complicated, though, as there are plenty of anomalies which make another distinctive feature of Poland's climate. There are many proverbs about the unpredictable weather, especially in March and April. Przedwiosnie may arrive as early as at the beginning of February and, conversely, it can sometimes snow even in September. In January 1982 the air temperature in Wloclawek dropped overnight from 8*C to -20*C, the record drop since temperatures started to be officially recorded in Poland. On 8 January 1994 the temperature in Cracow's centre stood at 17.3*C.

Over the last thousand years, Poland's climate has undergone substantial changes. For insstance, as late as in the 12th century grapes were grown in many regions. That was when the climate was the mildest. Today, even in Zielona Gora, once noted for its vineyards, you can see just one small plantation maintained for decorative purposes.

The hottest and coldest areas


The hottest part of Poland is the Silesian Lowland, strongly influenced by the Atlantic air. An important factor is also the region's location close to higher-lying areas that stop clouds and moisture, which results in high insolation. The thermal winter period here is only about 60 days long and winters are relatively mild, while summers are sunny and hot, lasting over 100 days, which puts them among the longest in Poland. Average temperature in July exceeds 18.5*C. The highest temperatures are recorded near Wroclaw, on the Wroclaw Plain.

This is the only area in Poland where the annual average temperature is over 8.5**C. Because of this mild climate, the Silesian Lowland has one of the longest vegetation seasons in the country, lasting 220 days.


The coldest spot is the north-eastern corner around Suwalki. With its morainal hills, postglacial lakes and low temperatures, this region bears much similarity to the distant Scandinavia. Harsh and long winters, lasting over four months, earned it the name of Poland's cold pole. The influence of the continental climate manifests itself in very low temperatures in winter and pretty high ones in summer.

The average temperatures in the Suwalki region have the biggest amplitudes in Poland, over 23*C, which is even more than in the mountains. The average air temperatures in January, the coldest month, are below -5*C, the lowest in Poland. In summer the average air temperature drops below 17.5*C. The annual average air temperature in the Suwalki Lake District is slightly more than 6*C. Predictably, summer here is one of the shortest in Poland, lasting about 60 days. The vegetation season in this harsh climate is about 190 days long, to which the breathtaking wild nature of the Suwalki region has become well adapted.

Areas with the lowest and highest precipitation


Paradoxically, the driest part of Poland is a region abounding in lakes and rivers - Kujawy. As it lies in a rain shadow, it sees relatively rare rains and snowfalls. Before reaching Kujawy and west Wielkopolska, the prevailing north-west air masses lose their moisture above the higher-lying Pomeranian Lake District. Other factors are the flatness of the terrain and the lack of any sizeable forests. At Lake Goplo, the yearly precipitation is just 300mm, which is the lowest value in the country.
Paradoxically, the driest part of Poland is a region abounding in lakes and rivers - Kujawy. As it lies in a rain shadow, it sees relatively rare rains and snowfalls. Before reaching Kujawy and west Wielkopolska, the prevailing north-west air masses lose their moisture above the higher-lying Pomeranian Lake District. Other factors are the flatness of the terrain and the lack of any sizeable forests. At Lake Goplo, the yearly precipitation is just 300mm, which is the lowest value in the country.


Radically different are the Tatras, where rain, snow or even hail is more likely than sunshine. Rocks and plants are often covered by hoar-frost, rime or dew, collectively referred to as horizontal precipitation. Water circulation in this area is particularly intense. Retained for a short time by the mountains or by a snow cover, water escapes quickly as fog or through crystal-clear mountain streams.


The Tatras have the highest precipitation in Poland. This is particularly evident in the Five Lakes' Valley (Dolina Pieciu Stawow Polskich), where the annual precipitation exceeds 1800mm of water. The period from April to October has more precipitation than the winter half-year. June is usually the rainiest month of the year, while February is the least likely month for any precipitation (in high mountains, it is September). On Kasprowy Wierch, there are annually about 230 days with daily precipitation over 0.1mm and about 50 days when it exceeds 10mm. The mount also has the longest-lying snow cover. Some snow is blown by winds and when it is warm enough, water evaporates intensively, which makes an impressive sight.


In winter, the Tatras see a curious phenomenon known as temperature inversion. In the valleys, it is colder than in the higher parts of the mountains. The so-called fog seas that develop in depressions make the air above extremely clear, so that the views from the peaks extend over hundreds of kilometres.

Poland has areas of outstanding natural value, both Europeanwide and worldwide. There are still places hardly touched by the civilization, like the wild and desolate Bieszczady Mountains with their spectacular pastures known as poloniny, and the inaccessible flood plains along the Biebrza River, home to many rare bird species, sometimes found nowhere else in Europe.


The most valuable gems of Poland's flora include the several hundred ancient oak trees in the Rogalin forest near Poznan. Every Polish schoolchild learns about the thousand-year-old Bartek oak near Kielce which was officially recognized in the 1930s as the biggest and oldest tree in the country. Bartek appears in many legends like the one about King Casimir the Great, eminent ruler of medieval Poland, who is said to have tried his subjects in its shade. In fact, however, Bartek is much younger than a yew tree in Henrykow Lubanski, north-east of Jelenia Gora, whose age is estimated as over 1250 years, which is more than the history of Polish statehood.

Oaks and yews are the longest-living trees. Poland's famous monument oaks: Bartek, Chrobry, Lech, Czech and Rus are all between 700 and 1000 years old. Lime trees, once often planted in villages, especially at manor houses and churches, also live relatively long. Poland's oldest elm and ash, both the most impressive in Europe, are over 400 years old. This is also the age limit for spruces and firs, the only trees that reach up to 50m. Beeches and pines live shorter, though they still outlive birches and poplars.
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