Weather and Climate

Summer thunderstorms often form over the mountains

Summer thunderstorms often form over the mountains

The Snake Range has a great variety of weather because of its great elevation range and also because of its interior continental location. In the high country, summer and autumn are the best hiking seasons. The lower desert areas are most enjoyable in spring and fall. In winter and spring, significant amounts of snow usually blanket the high country, and the peaks become the domain of the experienced winter mountaineer and backcountry skier. Elevations in the park range from 6,200 feet to 13,063 feet.

During summer, the valleys commonly reach temperatures of 90ºF during the afternoon and occasionally reach 100ºF. Nights on the desert can be chilly, with temperatures dropping to 50ºF or lower. The high country is the place to be in summer, with high temperatures around 75ºF. Nights in the mountains can be cold, even in the summer, with temperatures dropping down to freezing. In the fall, daily high temperatures in the desert drop to an average of 75ºF. Winter temperatures in the mountains can drop as low as -30ºF, and occasionally reach subzero levels in the valleys as well.

The desert valleys and foothills receive about 10 inches of precipitation a year; the mountain crest may receive two or three times that amount. During the summer, most of the moisture comes as rain from sporadic thunderstorms. By late October, the weather shifts to a winter pattern and Pacific weather systems begin to reach the area. These storms bring snow to the mountains and rain to the valleys at first, but as winter approaches snow falls in the valleys as well. Winter storms dominate the weather through April. Deep snow usually lingers into May on the peaks, but the foothills and lower canyons are often snow-free in March.

Strong winds sometimes blow on the exposed ridges, and even during otherwise calm weather, the sharp temperature contrast at different elevations can cause strong up or down slope winds. This effect is especially noticeable in canyons and valleys.

Periods of stormy weather are interspersed with stretches of fine weather. Even in December and January more than half the days are either clear or partly cloudy. During summer and fall cloudy days are an uncommon treat. As in most mountain areas, the weather can change rapidly; snow falls every month of the year on the peaks and ridges, and thunderstorms in particular can build up quickly.