North Carolina climate is mostly humid subtropical (Köppen Cfa) except for a subtropical highland type (Köppen Cfb) on the high slopes of the Appalachian Mountains. Summers are hot and humid, while winters are wet and cold. North Carolina is a part of the southeastern United States. Georgia and South Carolina to the south, Tennessee to the west, Virginia to the north, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east share borders with the state. The latitude and altitude chiefly influence the climate, along with the warm Gulf Stream and the cold Labrador currents.
North Carolina, the Old North State, has three geographical divisions. The Coastal Plains constitute half the area of the state and consists of flat, swampy lands as well as gently sloping terrain. The Piedmont Division chiefly consists of hard rock and gently sloping hills with sporadic steep ranges that extend to the base of the mountains. The Mountain Division comprises the westernmost part of North Carolina and covers one-fifth of the state's area. Elevations stretch from 450 meters to 2025 meters at the summit of Mount Mitchell, the highest point in the state. North Carolina has an average elevation of 500 meters above sea level.
The Bermuda High-Pressure system dominates the summers in North Carolina. The conditions are calm, and the skies remain cloudless for extended periods. Temperatures rarely cross 80°F (26.7°C) in the mountains in midsummer at altitudes above 900 meters, and the nights are crisp and cool. The winter temperatures are rarely extreme, with January ranging between 20°F (-6.7°C) to 45°F (7.2°C) in the lower valleys. The coastal areas are cooler than the inland regions during midsummer, with ocean waters below 80°F (26.7°C). The Sandhills section of southern Piedmont has a relatively warm winter due to sandy soils and rare arrival of snow. Spring has pleasant weather compared to the heat of summer. Autumn temperatures are moderate but drop rapidly by the latter half of the season. Temperatures vary significantly with altitude in North Carolina.
The average annual precipitation is 45" (1143mm) in North Carolina and occurs throughout the year. Summer is the wettest season, while autumn is the driest. Sleet and snow occur only a few times in the year in the coastal areas, while the high mountain slopes receive up to 50" (1270mm). In the rest of the state, the snowfall ranges from 2" (50.8mm) in the lower coast to 16" (406.4mm) in the southern mountains. The average annual freeze-free period ranges from 130 days in the mountain areas to 290 days in the warm south. The sunshine is ample throughout the year and averages over 2600 hours annually.
Fayetteville holds the record of the highest ever temperature of 110°F (43.3°C) on August 21, 1983, in North Carolina, while Mount Mitchell recorded the coldest temperature of -34°F (-36.7°C) on January 21, 1985.
The best time to visit North Carolina
The best time to visit North Carolina is typically from spring in mid-April to autumn in mid-October. Summer is the peak of the tourist season, and budget travelers get better deals in the shoulder seasons of early spring and late autumn due to fewer crowds. Thunderstorms and convectional rainfall are prominent in July. The temperatures rise significantly faster in May than any other month and drop rapidly in October. The fall season is pleasant, with the lowest amount of rainfall in the year. Hiking, fishing, boating, and hunting are popular, with abundant forests, and mountains with streams. The inland water zones are calm and quiet and popular spots for fishing.
The worst time to visit North Carolina
The worst time to visit North Carolina, if there is any, is the winter season from December to February. The temperatures breach the 10°F (-12.2°C) at least once in the winter in central North Carolina and drop up to 0°F (-17.8°C) in the high mountains. High mountains peaks receive up to 50" (1270mm) of snow in the cold season. Many tourists visit the warm southern parts of the state during the winter when the northern part of the United States is frigid. Cold waves are frequent, along with snow and sleet.
North Carolina is vulnerable to floods, flash floods, tropical storms, and hurricanes. The meeting of two opposing currents near the North Carolina coast is a breeding ground for rough weather. The French Broad River floods frequently, and the rainstorms are intense in the area between the southwest of Asheville and the Holston River east of Knoxville. Late spring is the time of frequent flash floods in the mountains and flooding of rivers due to heavy rainfall. Tropical cyclones cause floods in the autumn in the Piedmont region. Successive hurricanes can be destructive and cause floods in the coastal areas.
Weather in January
January is the coldest month of the year in North Carolina, with the average low temperatures dropping to 20°F (-6.7°C) in the western mountains. Banner Elk averages between 20°F (-6.7°C) to 40°F (4.4°C), while Grandfather Mountain is frigid in the 20°F (-6.7°C) to 36°F (2.2°C) range. Nights are below freezing in the Piedmont region, with Raleigh, the capital of North Carolina, registering between 30°F (-1.1°C) to 53°F (11.7°C). Snowfall records between 10" (254mm) to 12" (304.8mm) in the high mountains but it's light elsewhere. The average ocean temperature in Southport is warmer in January than that in Maine in July. Sledding and snow tubing are popular activities in the cold season. Head over to Dry Falls, and there is an even chance that the frozen waterfalls have created a winter wonderland. The tastiest beers from dozens of breweries are the toast of the Winter Warmer Beer Festival in Ashville. While the season is not extreme, it is prudent to wear warm winter clothes in the evenings. Many people from the northern states celebrate the New Year in January in North Carolina.
Weather in February
February is cold in the winter season in North Carolina with at least 10 to 12 wet days that bring 4" (101.6mm) of rain. Polar air masses occasionally cross the mountains to bring brief cold waves in the state. Temperatures drop up to 10°F (-12.2°C) in the mountains and 0°F (-17.8°C) in extreme cases. The coastal regions are relatively warmer due to the influence of the warm ocean currents. Cape Hatteras is between 40°F (4.4°C) to 54°F (12.2°C) range, while Atlantic Beach registers in the 35°F (1.7°C) to 56°F (13.3°C) range. Snowfall is usually light except for the slopes of the high mountains. Raleigh has many ice skating rinks, and there is no shortage of snow in the mountain resorts. Fishing and hunting seasons are open even in the winter due to the relatively mild temperatures. A jacket is handy in the winter, primarily if it handles both cold and rain. Expect an occasional cold wave in February in North Carolina along with strong winds.
Weather in March
March is the beginning of the mild spring season in North Carolina. The atmosphere is a little damp with 4" (101.6mm) to 6" (152.4mm) of rainfall, and at least ten wet days. The average high temperatures are between 51°F (10.6°C) to 64°F (17.8°C), while the average low temperatures are in the 29°F (-1.7°C) to 45°F (7.2°C) range. Asheville in the western mountains has temperatures in the mild 37°F (2.8°C) to 58°F (14.4°C), while Southport on the coast is warm between 43°F (6.1°C) to 68°F (20°C). The snow disappears from the ground and is noticeable only in the high mountains. The lighthouses provide a fantastic view of the surrounding landscape, and the beaches offer an ideal relaxation during the spring break. The freshwater roars through the narrow streams and the high waterfalls. Paddle the calm waters of the rivers and lakes while enjoying the scenery. Although the cold season is over, a rain jacket provides comfort in the wet and windy conditions. North Carolina offers refreshingly warm days and cool nights with the advance of the spring season in March.
Weather in April
April witnesses the advance of the spring season in North Carolina, along with the high mountain slopes in the west. Day temperatures are in the warm 60°F (15.6°C) to 70°F (21.1°C), while nights are mild in the 40°F (4.4°C) to 50°F (10°C) range statewide. Greensboro in the central Piedmont region registers warm temperatures between 47°F (8.3°C) to 70°F (21.1°C). The rivers and streams are full of freshwater and offer lovely scenery in the backdrop of the mountains. Expect rain and dampness along with ample sunshine in April. Hunting and fishing are in full swing, and it is prudent to carry a rain jacket to avoid inconvenience. Enjoy the warm sunshine with the flowers blooming in the countryside. Bike and hike the beautiful trails in the company of fresh air that is sweet for the lungs. The strawberries and blueberries are ripe for picking straight from the farms. The shoulder season is excellent for budget travelers who wish to take advantage of the discounted accommodations. Expect thunderstorms in April in North Carolina.
Weather in May
May is warm and sunny in North Carolina, with blossoming flowers and singing birds that wake up the land. The average temperatures are in the warm 50°F (10°C) to 80°F (26.7°C) range, with 8 hours of daily sunshine. May is the period of regular thunderstorms and heavy rainfall in the state. An odd tropical storm can breach the coast and reach the interior. The Appalachian Mountains in the west are popular during spring break, with the temperatures significantly lesser than the rest of the state. Pack outdoor gear and head to the mountains to seek adventure. The low humidity in the spring season keeps the conditions pleasant. The body is more willing to endure the efforts of biking and hiking the mountain trails than during the summer. Tornado outbreaks are likely in the spring, especially in the latter part of the season. A rain jacket helps counter the wet weather. Expect the temperatures to rise rapidly in May in North Carolina.
Weather in June
June begins the bright summer in North Carolina, with warm to hot temperatures. The days are long, with average high temperatures in the 55°F (12.8°C) to 88°F (31.1°C) range. Highlands, North Carolina, has comfortable temperatures in the 55°F (12.8°C) to 77°F (25°C), while Goldsboro in the coastal belt is warm between 67°F (19.4°C) to 88°F (31.1°C). North Carolina summers are prone to thunderstorms and occasional tornadoes. Thunderstorms are frequent and severe, with heavy rainfall accompanied by lightning and thunder. The ocean waters are mild to warm and attract swimmers and surfers alike. Sunbathing is popular on the beaches in early summer. Mornings are relatively cooler than the afternoons, and the difference can be as stark as 20°F (-6.7°C). The day temperatures are high, but the nights tend to be mild. Cool and dry air from the north occasionally invades the state, but the temperatures rebound quickly to normal. Tropical cyclones hit the coastal areas and occasionally extend further inland. Fog is frequent in the summer. North Carolina sees heavy tourist footfall in June.
Weather in July
July is typically the hottest month of the year in North Carolina, with the average high temperatures in the range of 77°F (25°C) to 91°F (32.8°C). Charlotte in the Piedmont region sees hot days that regularly touch 90°F (32.2°C). Nights tend to be mild in the mountains, with Boone and Banner Elk averaging 55°F (12.8°C) to 60°F (15.6°C). The precipitation is substantial to the tune of 5" (127mm) to 7" (177.8mm) across the state. The peak of the tourist season keeps camping grounds, mountain lodges, and hotels overbooked. The growing season is in full swing, and lush green pastures cover large swathes of land. Activities like hiking and biking gather momentum during the summer. Hurricanes and floods occur occasionally, but thunderstorms are frequent and bring the majority of the rainfall. Mountain air is pleasant even at the peak of summer, while the coast does not heat up as high as the interior lands. Beware of sudden storms and heavy rainfall during July afternoons in North Carolina.
Weather in August
August is warm in the summer of North Carolina with at least 8 hours of daily sunshine. The average high temperatures are in the 70°F (21.1°C) to 90°F (32.2°C) range, while the average low temperatures are between 56°F (13.3°C) to 67°F (19.4°C). The coastal belt is the wettest in the state with 7" (177.8mm) of rainfall, including 6.9" (175.3mm) in Cape Hatteras and 7.4" (188mm) in Wilmington. Occasional rough weather is on the cards due to the mixing of warm and cold currents near the coast of North Carolina. Light sweatshirts are better to ward off the humidity and heat during the day. Wear large-brimmed hats and sunglasses while outdoors during the afternoons. Forests have many shady trees, but grasslands offer little shade during the midday heat. A cool lake or a swimming hole is a great spot to relax when the sun rays are intense. Mountain air is cool, and the coast has relatively lower temperatures than the interior. The temperatures drop gradually in North Carolina by the end of August.
Weather in September
September begins the pleasant autumn season in North Carolina, with temperatures significantly lower than the peak of summer. The temperatures scale down from the peak of summer, to register in the average range of 49°F (9.4°C) to 86°F (30°C). The precipitation is in the zone of 4" (101.6mm) to 7" (177.8mm), with partly cloudy skies between sunny days. An occasional heatwave can push the midday temperatures above 90°F (32.2°C) in many places. Tropical storms are active, and floods are frequent in the river catchment areas. The hunting and growing seasons are in full swing, and the conditions are pleasant. Fall is colorful, especially in the Appalachian Mountains in the west. Hues of crimson, orange, purple, and yellow cover the landscape. Late fall sees rapidly changing temperatures, often the fastest changes during the year. The Great Smoky Mountains is the meeting place of diverse forms of vegetation and a magical ground of different colors. September is a great time to visit North Carolina.
Weather in October
October lies in the middle of the autumn season in North Carolina, with rapidly changing temperatures. The average high temperatures are in the warm range of 60°F (15.6°C) to 75°F (23.9°C), while the average low temperatures are between 40°F (4.4°C) to 57°F (13.9°C). October receives the lowest rainfall of the year, but it registers above 2" (50.8mm) in most places. Nights tend to be on the colder side but stay above freezing even in the coldest parts of the high west. The southerly winds drop moisture while overcoming the mountain barrier to bring precipitation in the southwest. Lakes and mountains are ideal places to watch sunrise and sunset in the fall season. The brilliant autumn colors cover the landscape, especially in the western mountainous region. Forests consist of pine, spruce, oak, and aspen, each assuming a different shade of color. Wear a jacket in the evenings to counter the breeze. October is the period of the greatest dip in temperatures in North Carolina.
Weather in November
November is the driest month of the year in North Carolina and sees a rapid drop in temperatures statewide. Asheville and Waterville in the mountain zone register mild temperatures between 38°F (3.3°C) to 60°F (15.6°C), while Raleigh and Charlotte in the Piedmont division range between 39°F (3.9°C) to 63°F (17.2°C). Southport and Wilmington are among the warmest places in the state, with temperatures between 45°F (7.2°C) to 71°F (21.7°C). The days still receive adequate sunshine but are warm at best. The sunshine lasts at least 6 hours a day, and the skies alternate between partly cloudy and clear ones. The conditions are windy, and the nights are cold. The harvest season draws to a close, with plenty of produce available for consumption. Wine and beer festivals keep the spirits up as the arrival of the cold season is on the cards. The tourist numbers drop by November with a significant drop in temperatures. Snowfall is rare in the mountains and absent in the interior and coastal regions. November is the end of the temperate autumn season in North Carolina.
Weather in December
December is the beginning of the cold in North Carolina with moderate precipitation to the tune of 4" (101.6mm) to 5" (127mm). The average high temperatures are in the 45°F (7.2°C) to 62°F (16.7°C) range, while the average low temperatures are between 22°F (-5.6°C) to 43°F (6.1°C). Snowfall is moderate in the mountains, and ski resorts utilize snowmaking equipment to ensure there is enough snow. The Appalachian Mountains protect the western part of the state from severe cold, while the ocean waters keep the coastal areas mild. December receives at least 6 hours of sunlight, and the daylight lasts for a good 11 hours in the majority of the state. Secluded log cabins in the mountains offer comfort, warmth, and majestic views even though outside conditions are chilly. North Carolina is one of the few states in America where the weather allows camping in the mountains in the winter. Expect temperatures to drop further with each passing day in December in North Carolina.