What's the Weather like? Here's a Seasonal Guide to the Many Climates of Asia

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What's the weather like? Here's a seasonal guide to the many climates of Asia

Timing is the key to a good vacation in Asia, where the monsoon-driven climate differs vastly from anything we experience in the Western United States. If you plan things right, and the weather cooperates, you can keep one step ahead of the monsoon as you travel through the region.

Prospective visitors to Asia may find sound weather information hard to come by. So you can better prepare for your journey, we describe the basic dynamics of Asia's weather and suggest tactics for more comfortable traveling.

The monsoon mechanism in brief

You can find most of the world's climate zones in Asia, from arid deserts in northwest China to tropical rain forests in Southeast Asia. Yet much of Asia's weather is driven by one major system: the monsoon cycle of winds that reverse direction about every six months.

Winter monsoon. In a great continental sigh, masses of cold, dry air blow from the central Asian steppes in winter, across the continent, and out over the warm Pacific and Indian oceans, even as far away as Fiji and Australia. There, over time, the air gathers moisture.

Summer monsoon. In summer, as the Asian land mass warms, it heats the air and causes it to rise. In its place, the cooler, moist ocean air sweeps inland, dumping billions of gallons of rain on the rice paddies of Asia (In August, a similar but localized "Southwest monsoon' brings moist winds from the Gulf of California into Arizona and California's Imperial Valley.)

Summer monsoon rainfall is heaviest in south and southeast Asia; inland areas and northeast Asia get more moderate rainfall.

The monsoon does not always mean incessant rain for days on end; many areas have short cloudbursts lasting an hour or so in the late afternoon. Then the skies often clear for the evening. Such rain often cools the air.

Typhoons, unlike monsoons, are brief powerful storms. Rising angry from the tropical western Pacific and Indian oceans, these tai feng (Chinese for "great wind') slam into Asia with hurricaneforce winds of up to 200 miles per hour. The areas hit most frequently are Japan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, and south Asia. Typhoons are more likely to occur in late summer and early fall, but they can strike anytime.

An overview of Asia's climate regions

Use the information that follows as a brief, informal weather guide in a normal year. But weather rarely conforms to a regular schedule. Some scientists blame the El Nino phenomenon for recent severe droughts in normally wet Southeast Asia and in Australia (and for record rainfall on our West Coast).

Expect some rain, heat, and humidity in most countries no matter when you go.

East Asia. Like all temperate regions, this is the realm of four distinct seasons (but with monsoons and higher humidity).

Spring and early fall are usually the best times to visit (Taiwan and Hong Kong are also pleasant through early winter). Winter's Siberian winds, unchecked by mountain ranges, bring freezing cold to Peking and Seoul. Japan's winters, though cold, are milder since the polar winds are warmed as they pass across the Sea of Japan.

Southeast Asia. In claimate as in culture and politics, Southeast Asia has a bit of everything from the dripping wet jungles of Burma to the cool highlands of Malaysia. …