Tibet Weather at a Glance
Weather in the Land of Snows is not as cold or as snowy as most people think. Sure, it does snow and it does get very cold at times, but Tibet can also be quite sunny and mild.
Actually, it’s really tough to talk about “Tibetan weather,” since many of the places you might like to visit — like Everest Base Camp, Lhasa, Derge and Lake Namtso — all have their own micro-climates. Not to mention that climate change is definitely affecting the weather patterns in Tibet, which makes your trip planning even more challenging.
To help you, we’ve compiled what we know from personal experience, asking Tibetan agents, and what we’ve gleaned as common knowledge from trolling the interwebs and a whole bunch of Tibet travel forums and blogs.
To get the most accurate weather information for planning your trip, email one or more of the local Tibetan tour guides recommended here, and consult with them about the best time to visit the set of places you specifically want to go, and about what kind of conditions you can expect.
If you are planning a trip to Tibet, check out our free, easy and ethical Tibet Travel Service in which we match you with hand-picked, top Tibet travel agents dedicated to supporting the local Tibetan economy and culture.
Weather by Season
All over Tibet, summers are mild with a fair amount of rain that tends to fall at night. The rainy season runs roughly from June to September, but especially in July and August. A big plus is that this is the greenest time of year and for many the most beautiful. Days in Lhasa can be t-shirt weather, when the strong sun is out, which is often, though the nights will cool down a lot. In general the temperatures will of course get colder — sometimes a lot colder — as you move out of the main valleys into higher altitude. If you’re going to Everest Base Camp in the summer you could be disappointed by clouds socking in the summit for days on end. The rain can also be an issue if you’re trekking during the summer months. The rainy season of July and August can play havoc with the roads all over Tibet, perhaps especially in Kham and Amdo. This is also the high season for Chinese tourists, in areas all over Tibet, but especially the Central Tibet and Everest itineraries.
September still has mild temperatures and though it can still be a bit rainy, September is often recommended as a prime month to visit Tibet. October can also be a great time to go — clear mountain views and beginning to be cold but not freezing — though you want to avoid the Chinese holidays in early October which will be crowded times in Tibet. Fall is a good time to visit Kham or Amdo.
Winter is quite cold everywhere in Tibet, though it’s a time of year that some people really think is great, especially in Lhasa, where it might snow only 4-5 times a winter. Tourist crowds are way down and the sky is nice and clear, though the winds pick up after November and February and March have strong cold winds. This is not a great time to visit the frigid northern, northeastern and western parts of Tibet unless you are an extremely hardy sort who enjoys being an icicle ;-)
Spring can be a good time to go to Tibet, with cold but not freezing temperatures and good visibility in the mountains until later in the spring, though it can be, as noted above, windy. Mind that the Tibetan Autonomous Region (the TAR) will usually be closed for the month of March and sometimes later and earlier, too, due to the extreme political sensitivity around the annual March 10th commemorations of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s flight from Tibet in 1959.
Notes on Regional Weather*
Lhasa has a surprisingly mild climate and you can travel there year round. April to November is the usual recommended time to travel, and many prefer August and September. Summer tends to be sunny and warm, even hot, during the day, with cool nights that can be rainy.
Rain can make roads muddy as you venture out of town. October and most of November are clear and cold, but not freezing, so can be great for some. Some hardy types prefer the drier, very cold, winter months for fewer tourists and mostly clear skies, and for the crowds of nomads who come into town as pilgrims during their winter down time.
Winter can bring strong cold winds, which become especially strong in February and March. Lhasa folk call this the Spring Wind — chilha. April will begin to warm again and can be a good time to travel unless the area is still closed from the annual March 10th closures. Through the winter and early spring, travel out of Lhasa, like going to Lake Namtso or Mount Kailash, will be dangerous or impossible due to snow in the passes.
Lhasa Climate Averages
Warmest average temperature, in June, 75 F/ 24 C.
Coolest average temperature, in January, 14 °F / -10 °C
Driest months: January and December, 0% average rainfall.
Wettest month: July with 4.8 in / 122 mm of rain, sleet, hail or snow falling across 13 days.
(Temperature information and graphs from climatemps.com.)
Climate graph for Lhasa (Fahrenheit)
Eastern Tibet (Kham and Amdo)
Spring and Fall are good times to visit Kham or Amdo, while the rainy season of July and August can play havoc with the roads. The rainy season can include June and September, though people still definitely go and have great trips during those months. From mid November to March, cold and bad road conditions make for an unfavorable time to visit Eastern Tibet. Your best bet for planning travel to this region is to contact one of the Kham or Amdo Tibetan tour guides recommended here, and consult with them about the best time for the places you would like to go. They can also offer you updated information about areas that China restricts access to in this area. (Sorry, we could not find reliable averages or graphs for any areas other than Lhasa.)
Travel from Nepal
The “Friendship highway” between Nepal and Lhasa can be passable all year around, but winter can bring blocks from snow and other closures and summer mudslides due to rain.
For clear skies and the best views, visit Mt. Everest in April, May or early October. Winter is extremely cold, considering that the common tourist destination is Everest Base Camp, at about 17,000 feet. While summer is (a little) warmer, it has the downside of rain and visibility-killing clouds. A land cruiser to Everest Base Camp (EBC) in the third week of August in 2007 found heavy rain and clouds all along the way and no visibility at Everest itself except for a few fortunate hours on the day of departure. We spoke to groups who had been at Everest Base Camp for three days saw nothing, literally nothing, of the mountain.
The Mount Kailash area, in Western Tibet is at high altitude and quite cold. Tour agencies generally run trips from May through September, with September being particularly good. Even in this period, the temperature can bottom out at night on the high points of the journey. July and August can be dicey due to summer rains, and winter is just plain out of bounds for your average tourist.
Online weather services for some cities in Tibet:
We checked a few online weather services to try to find good, hard data about the weather of different Tibetan regions. Some services, like Weather Underground are helpful in offering current weather for some cities but not so helpful in Tibet travel planning, since they don’t provide historical data on monthly averages for each city.
Weather Underground “Weather for Tibet” Page (Scroll down a bit, then click on the city to drill down.)
The climate of the Tibetan Plateau, in a snapshot:
From Wikipedia’s entry on the Tibetan Plateau:
“The plateau is a high-altitude arid steppe interspersed with mountain ranges and large brackish lakes. Annual precipitation ranges from 100 to 300 millimetres (3.9 to 12 in) and falls mainly as hailstorms. The southern and eastern edges of the steppe have grasslands which can sustainably support populations of nomadic herdsmen, although frost occurs for six months of the year. Permafrost occurs over extensive parts of the plateau. Proceeding to the north and northwest, the plateau becomes progressively higher, colder and drier, until reaching the remote Changthang region in the northwestern part of the plateau. Here the average altitude exceeds 5,000 metres (16,000 ft) and winter temperatures can drop to −40 °C (−40.0 °F). As a result of this extremely inhospitable environment, the Changthang region (together with the adjoining Kekexili region) is the least populous region in Asia, and the third least populous area in the world after Antarctica and northern Greenland.”
*These are not all the regions of Tibet, just the most heavily touristed areas.
By Lobsang Wangdu