North Dakota has a humid continental climate (Köppen climate classification Dfb) in its eastern half and a semi-arid type (Köppen BSk) in the western half. Summers are warm to hot, while winters are cold. North Dakota is a Midwestern state at the center of the continent of North America. Minnesota to the east, South Dakota to the south, Montana to the west, and the Canadian Provinces of Saskatchewan to the northwest and Manitoba to the north share borders with the state. Temperatures and rainfall vary widely due to the interior location in the continent and more than 1000 miles distance from any large water body.
North Dakota, the Peace Garden State, has an average elevation of 580 meters, with the highest point at 903 meters at White Butte. Four geographical regions prominently divide the state. The Great Plains in the southwest include the famous Badlands region along with gently rolling hills and buttes. The Missouri Coteau extends diagonally from the northwest to the south-central border and consists of steep hills. The Glaciated Plains cover the rest of the state with gentle glaciated landscapes, streams, and moraines. The Red River Valley is a glacial lake plan that extends from the eastern border and is exceptionally fertile. Western and south-central rivers and their tributaries drain into the Missouri River, while eastern and north-central ones drain into the Red River.
Summers in North Dakota summers are warm to hot, with the average high temperatures between 77°F (25°C) to 87°F (30.6°C) at the peak of July. Temperatures touch 90°F (32.2°C) for an average of 10 days in the northeast to 24 in the south. The southwest and south-central regions even witness a few days over 100°F (37.8°C). Winters are cold, with widespread snow cover and extremely variable temperatures. Temperatures fall below 0°F (-17.8°C) for an average of 40 to 70 days statewide. During years of little snowfall, the temperatures remain in the 40°F (4.4°C) to 60°F (15.6°C) range. Dry and cold air masses during the winter and hot and warm air in the summer result in large daily fluctuations in temperatures. Spring and autumn are relatively mild, with a caveat of extreme conditions due to frontal air passages and high winds.
The annual precipitation in North Dakota ranges from 14" (355.6mm) in the west to 22" (558.8mm) in the east. Late spring and summer are the wettest parts of the year, while winter is the driest season. Snowfall is the prominent form of precipitation in the winter and averages 51" (1295.4mm) in the year. The state has a history of snowfall in all the months except July and August. The annual sunshine averages 2737 hours, with a peak of 354 hours in July. The humidity is the highest during the cold season and is in a monthly range of 60% to 75% over the year.
Steele holds the record of the highest ever temperature of 121°F (49.4°C) on July 6, 1936, in North Dakota, while Parshall recorded the coldest temperature of -60°F (-51.1°C) on February 15, 1936.
The best time to visit North Dakota
The best time to visit North Dakota is usually from May in late spring to October in the autumn. Summer is typically the peak of the tourist season, and spring and autumn see discounted accommodation and fewer crowds. Thunderstorms and tornadoes are also regular factors to consider during late spring and summer. Autumn temperatures are considerably lower than the summer, and the season is dry. July and August are the calmest months in terms of wind speeds, while April and May are the windiest. Summer afternoons have low humidity compared to the winter.
The worst time to visit North Dakota
The worst time to visit North Dakota is during the cold winter season from December to February. The winter snowpack is persistent at least till March, and the average snowfall is 51" (1295.4mm). Arctic air masses reach the heart of the state with little resistance from the north and sweep the Great Plains with impunity. Blizzards average 2 to 3 in the season and reduce visibility to a few feet. Strong winds quickly fill the air with powdery snow, and major highways remain closed during snowstorms. Extremely cold temperatures make winter travel challenging, but there are plenty of fun-filled activities for snow lovers.
North Dakota is vulnerable to thunderstorms, floods, droughts, tornadoes, and blizzards. Mountains provide a barrier on the western side to the moist air from the Pacific Ocean. The northern and southern sides of the state are open to air masses in all the seasons. Continuous wind in all seasons and temperature variations are the main features of the climate of North Dakota. Extreme cold up to -60°F (-51.1°C) and blizzards are not rare in the winter, nor are temperatures of 121°F (49.4°C) and frequent tornado outbreaks in the summer. Local floods are frequent during late spring and summer due to spring snowmelt and heavy summer rainfall. The Garrison Dam near Bismarck has significantly reduced the danger of the flooding of the Missouri River. Blizzards occasionally sweep the landscape during the cold season.
Weather in January
January is usually the coldest month of the year in North Dakota, with the average low temperatures in the icy -4°F (-20°C) to 6°F (-14.4°C) range. Bottineau and Rugby in the central region witness frigid temperatures in the -4°F (-20°C) to 17°F (-8.3°C) zone. January is the snowiest month with 9" (228.6mm) to 12" (304.8mm) of snow in the majority of the state. The strong northern winds face scarce resistance on the vast prairie. Parkas and boots are mandatory with the increase in the snow depth and snow cover. Despite its location on the northern boundary of the United States, the average snow depth rarely goes above 15" (381mm). Dense fog is prevalent during the mornings in many places, and the daily sunshine rarely lasts for 5 hours. Frost, sleet, and ice make driving dangerous even during the day when the sunlight is weak at best. Occasional blizzards stall the highways, so keep an eye on the weather if the objective is to visit North Dakota for enjoying the snow in January.
Weather in February
February is chilly in the winter of North Dakota as wind and cold take charge of the weather. The nights are severely cold, while the days rarely register temperatures above freezing due to the weak sunlight. The skies are gloomy and partly cloudy due to a rise in humidity. Bismarck, the capital in the central region, receives weak sunshine that results in average temperatures in the icy 8°F (-13.3°C) to 28°F (-2.2°C) range. Powers Lake and Kenmare in the west are even colder, with temperatures between 3°F (-16.1°C) to 24°F (-4.4°C). Winter temperature variations are extreme in North Dakota due to the lack of natural barriers to the invading air masses from the north and south. The snowfall of 6" (152.4mm) to 8" (203.2mm) covers the entire landscape in February, although the rainfall is negligible. Flora and fauna are asleep during the winter due to the harsh conditions. February is usually a time to avoid a visit to North Dakota for the majority of the population.
Weather in March
March is cold in North Dakota, with signs of the arrival of the spring season in the second half of the month. The average high temperatures are between 34°F (1.1°C) to 41°F (5°C), while the average low temperatures are in the freezing 14°F (-10°C) to 21°F (-6.1°C) range. Williston in the west has average temperatures in the cold 18°F (-7.8°C) to 40°F (4.4°C) zone, while Valley City in the east is icy between 16°F (-8.9°C) to 36°F (2.2°C). The snowfall limits to eight days in the month but registers in the 6" (152.4mm) to 9" (228.6mm) zone. The winter gloominess gives way to moderate sunshine that lasts for more than 5.5 hours a day. The precipitation is light, and the skies are partly cloudy. The first rays of the spring sun wake the hibernating animals from their deep slumber. Bears, coyotes, bison, and many other animals scourge the land for food as the temperatures rise gradually. Wear warm coats as the conditions are cold in March in North Dakota.
Weather in April
April brings the mild spring season to North Dakota, with warm days and cold nights. The day temperatures are usually in the 53°F (11.7°C) to 58°F (14.4°C) range, but the temperatures drop rapidly after sunset. Bottineau in the central region sees night temperatures below 29°F (-1.7°C). The snowfall is moderate by the second half of April and registers to the tune of 3" (76.2mm) to 5" (127mm) statewide. An uptick in rainfall and an increase in the intensity of the sunrays fills the rivers, lakes, and streams with fresh water as the snow beings to melt. Fishing enthusiasts find solace in the soothing freshwater that brings an abundant supply of fish. Expect occasional cold waves in April that push the mercury column to surprising depths. The hunting season in North Dakota provides plenty of game, from light geese to coyotes and even bears. Jackets are handy to encounter wind and rain during the day and cold at night. The soil and air smell sweet in April in North Dakota.
Weather in May
May is beautiful, with many sunny days in North Dakota as the land basks in bright sunshine. Tulips bloom everywhere, and birds sing songs of joy. The average high temperatures are in the warm 66°F (18.9°C) to 71°F (21.7°C) zone, while the average low temperatures are in the mild range of 39°F (3.9°C) to 46°F (7.8°C). Fargo and Jamestown in the east register temperatures between 43°F (6.1°C) to 69°F (20.6°C). The precipitation is in the range of 2" (50.8mm) to 3" (76.2mm) across the state, and the snow cover disappears entirely from the ground. Tourist numbers rise during the spring due to the temperate sun, and the abundant flora and fauna that dot the landscape. Waterfalls roar with the addition of fresh water, and fishing, boating, and kayaking see plenty of interest. Sweatshirts may seem better during the warm days, but a rain jacket offers protection from sudden showers. Thunderstorms occur regularly, so keep an eye on the weather. May is the windiest month of the year in North Dakota.
Weather in June
June begins the hot summer season in North Dakota, with bright sunshine and long days. The temperatures are comfortable during early summer with the average highs in the 74°F (23.3°C) to 79°F (26.1°C) range. Nights are mild and register in the zone of 50°F (10°C) to 56°F (13.3°C). The eastern region is a little wetter than the west with 3" (76.2mm) to 4" (101.6mm) of rainfall, statewide. Thunderstorms are frequent, and local flooding occurs throughout the state. Tornadoes inflict substantial damage occasionally. The daily sunshine lasts for a long 8 hours despite frequent interruptions of stormy weather. The state parks see the highest tourist footfall at the beginning of the summer. Strong winds are a prominent feature of North Dakota's climate. Summer is the time to go fishing and swimming in the rivers and lakes. Avoid the midday sun, whose intensity is at the highest in the summer. Expect the temperatures to rise gradually with each passing day in June in North Dakota.
Weather in July
July is the hottest month of the year in North Dakota, with the average high temperatures in the range of 80°F (26.7°C) to 87°F (30.6°C). Few places pass the 100°F (37.8°C) mark in the south, and that too, for a day or two. Sunny days are ample in July along with 3" (76.2mm) to 4" (101.6mm) of rainfall in the month. The increase in tourist numbers keeps a healthy competition for a place on the camping grounds. The growing season is in full swing with ample rain and sunshine. Summer is the time of rodeos, and the cowboy hats are a perfect shield from the scorching sun. Watch birds and animals in their natural settings in at least one of the 65 wildlife refuges in the state. The slopes of the Great Smoky Mountains offer spectacular views of flora and fauna during the warm summer days. Mornings and evenings are better for outdoor activities. Keep an eye on the weather for storms in July in North Dakota.
Weather in August
August is a warm summer month in North Dakota that sees moderately warm temperatures and brilliant sunshine. The average high temperatures are in the 78°F (25.6°C) to 86°F (30°C), but the temperatures fall rapidly after sunset. Nights are comfortable in the 52°F (11.1°C) to 58°F (14.4°C) range and tend to be less humid than the winter. Campers have to often adjust to the wide fluctuations in temperatures, rain, and high wind speeds. Medora in the west registers temperatures between 54°F (12.2°C) to 86°F (30°C), while Fargo in the west is between 57°F (13.9°C) to 81°F (27.2°C). Light sweatshirts are comfortable in August to explore the plains as well as hiking the mountain trails. There is plenty of native prairie fruit as the harvest season begins to pick up by the end of the month. It is the ideal time to drop a line in the calm waters and catch enough fish for a meal. August is the time when the farmlands bear plenty of produce in North Dakota.
Weather in September
September brings the beautiful autumn season to North Dakota. The green prairie, forests, and rivers display fantastic shades of yellow, crimson, orange, and golden colors. The temperatures are in the average range of 42°F (5.6°C) to 74°F (23.3°C). The precipitation is to the tune of 1" (25.4mm) to 2" (50.8mm), and the skies remain mostly clear during the autumn days. The temperatures are pleasant and down from the peak of the summer. The hunting season is in full swing, and the fishing season draws plenty of interest. Thunderstorms and tornadoes are few compared to the summer. Strong winds sweep the grasslands and vast plains, with scarce refuge for tourists in the form of scattered mountain ranges and steep flattop hills. Long pants are suitable to wear in the grasslands. Early mornings are best for hiking and biking as the air is fresh, and the sunshine is moderate. September is an ideal time to visit the Badlands in North Dakota.
Weather in October
October lies in the middle of the autumn season in North Dakota, with a substantial drop in temperatures. The fall foliage is at its peak as nature spreads its colors all over the landscape. The average high temperatures are between 53°F (11.7°C) to 59°F (15°C), while the average low temperatures are between 28°F (-2.2°C) to 35°F (1.7°C). The precipitation is significantly less in October, with the first flurries of snow by the end of the month. The nights are cold and drop below freezing in the majority of the state. The nights drop below 35°F (1.7°C) in McLeod in the east and 28°F (-2.2°C) in Dickinson in the west. The harvest season is in full swing with plenty of apples and pumpkins along with truckloads of wheat and rye. The daily sunshine lasts less than 6 hours, and the days are short. Much of the tourist population leaves North Dakota by the end of October as the cold gradually takes over.
Weather in November
November sees a rapid drop in temperatures in North Dakota, with the end of the fall season. The fall foliage is past its peak, and the trees begin to show bare limbs by the second half of the month. The average high temperatures are in the cold 35°F (1.7°C) to 42°F (5.6°C) range, while average low temperatures are below freezing in the 15°F (-9.4°C) to 22°F (-5.6°C). The eastern portion of the state is colder than the west during the day, and the temperatures vary widely in the cold season. November sees light rainfall, and there is a marked decrease in the number of storms. Snowfall occurs everywhere and ranges from 5" (127mm) to 8" (203.2mm) across the state. The sunshine is between 4.5 to 5.5 hours a day, and the intensity of the sun is moderate at best. Cold air blasts from the Arctic region make their way to the heart of North Dakota to push down the temperatures in November.
Weather in December
December is the start of the cold winter season in North Dakota with gloomy skies and frequent snowfall. Fargo in the east has freezing temperatures in the 6°F (-14.4°C) to 22°F (-5.6°C) range, while Dickinson in the west is in the frigid zone of 5°F (-15°C) to 29°F (-1.7°C). The majority of the state receives 8" (203.2mm) to 10" (254mm) of snowfall that keeps the roads slippery. The days are short, and the daily sunshine lasts for hardly 4 hours. December receives little rainfall, but the snowfall is ample, along with occasional snowstorms. Strong gusts of wind keep the conditions chillier than the actual temperatures. Cabin rentals offer cozy stays and stone fireplaces with roaring fires. Skiing, snow tubing, and snowboarding attract many snowbirds despite the frigid atmosphere of winter. Cross country ski trails satisfy the hunger of those who wish to explore the white landscape. Expect the cold to increase with each passing day in December in North Dakota.