Tennessee has a chiefly humid subtropical type of climate (Köppen climate classification Cfa) in the majority of the state and oceanic (Köppen Cfb) in a minor part of the east. Hot summers and cold winters are typical, with a gradual rise in warmth in the southern regions. Tennessee lies in the southeastern region of the United States. North Carolina in the east, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi in the south, Arkansas in the west, Missouri in the northwest, Kentucky in the north, and Virginia in the northeast share borders with the state. The proximity to the Gulf of Mexico is the chief factor that dominates the climate.
Tennessee, The Volunteer State, has an average elevation of 270 meters above sea level, with the highest point at Clingmans Dome at 2,025 meters. The eastern portion consists of rugged terrain and the high Blue Ridge Mountains with an average elevation of 1500 meters. The western section consists of an elevated plain, the Highland Rim, with fertile farmlands and abundant wildlife. The Gulf Coastal Plain lies to the west of the Highland Rim and Nashville Basin. Middle Tennessee consists of flat plains along with hills, ridges, caves, and waterfalls.
Summers are hot and humid in Tennessee, with the average daily temperatures above the 90°F (32.2°C) mark at the peak of the season. Nights tend to be mild, with temperatures often crossing 70°F (21.1°C). Winters range from mild to cold, with average low temperatures in the range of 22°F (-5.6°C) to 33°F (0.6°C) during the trough of January. Higher elevations are colder than the plains, but freezing temperatures occur in much of the state. Spring is warm and wet with comfortable temperatures but sees the frequent passage of storms. Autumn is relatively dry, and the conditions are pleasant. Polar air clashes with tropical air masses to bring unexpected weather changes in the cold season.
Tennessee receives generous precipitation that averages over 50" (1270mm) annually. Rainfall is throughout the year, with the wettest period between December and April and the driest between August and October. Mid-summer sees ample rainfall in much of the state, especially in the high mountains. Snowfall is substantially over 80" (2032mm) in the high mountains in the east, while it is hardly more than 5" (127mm) in the west. The growing season ranges from 180 to 220 days, with variations based on topography. The number of days with the sun is between 200 to 220, and the average sunshine is 2600 hours annually.
The record high temperature for Tennessee is 113°F (45°C), set in Perryville on August 9, 1930, while the lowest recorded temperature is -32°F (-35.6°C), set in Mountain City on December 30, 1917.
The best time to visit Tennessee
The best time to visit Tennessee is during the pristine fall season from mid-September to mid-November. The end of the summer sees a drop in temperatures and humidity. The day highs, which touch 80°F (26.7°C) in September, tend to be between 65°F (18.3°C) and 73°F (22.8°C) in October, while the nights are pleasant. The landscape attains beautiful colors by the fourth week of October and retains them for much of November. Budget travelers may see better accommodation deals in winter and spring than the fall season. The conditions are on the colder side by late November, but outdoor activities are possible.
The worst time to visit Tennessee
The worst time to visit Tennessee is during the winter from December to February when the conditions are cold. The temperatures drop below freezing in most areas but rarely go below 0°F (-17.8°C) for extended periods, even in the high lands. Snowstorms are rare in the plains, but the high mountains in the west accumulate a substantial amount of snow. Winter is the period of heavy rainfall and frequent passage of storms. Flights and accommodations are cheaper in the winter compared to the other seasons. The cold season in Tennessee is milder than the other states in the American north and a welcome destination for snowbirds.
Tennessee is vulnerable to thunderstorms, tornadoes, floods, and hurricanes in spring and summer. Floods occur due to heavy rainfall and melting of snow during spring and summer. Thunderstorms occur for an average of 50 days in the year and occasionally bring damaging winds and large hail. Tornadoes average 15 per year and are more active in the west and middle portions of the state. Tennessee has the largest percentage of total tornadoes that result in fatalities in the union. The direct impact of hurricanes is rare in Tennessee, but remnants of cyclones cause significant rainfall. Snowstorms like the Blizzard of 1993 are fewer than more likely ice storms. The eastern portion of the state is more susceptible to fog than the rest.
Weather in January
January is the coldest month of the year in Tennessee when the temperatures drop in the frigid zone of 22°F (-5.6°C) to 33°F (0.6°C) at night. The average temperatures in Nashville, the capital in middle Tennessee, are between 28°F (-2.2°C) to 47°F (8.3°C), while they are a little milder in Memphis in the west between 33°F (0.6°C) to 50°F (10°C) range. Day temperatures are mild in the 46°F (7.8°C) to 50°F (10°C), with hardly 5 hours of weak sunshine. The eastern ranges receive 4" (101.6mm) to 5" (127mm) of snow, but the rest of the state sees negligible snowfall. The Knoxville area is chilly and prone to snowfall. The precipitation is in the 3" (76.2mm) to 5" (127mm) range and often accompanied by sleet. The skies remain partly cloudy in the absence of intense sunshine. Skiing is generally feasible only in a few resorts in the eastern mountains. Warm coats are a must in the winter, mainly due to the high wind speeds. Cold fronts regularly occur in the state at the peak of the cold season in January in Tennessee.
Weather in February
February is a cold winter month in Tennessee, with partly cloudy skies and ten to twelve days of rain. The average high temperatures are in the mild 49°F (9.4°C) to 55°F (12.8°C) zone, while nights are in the chilly range of 24°F (-4.4°C) to 36°F (2.2°C). Knoxville in the east registers cold temperatures between 32°F (0°C) to 52°F (11.1°C) and receives between 1" (25.4mm) to 4" (101.6mm) of snowfall. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has scarce crowds in the winter, and the scenery is amazing while driving over the tranquil roads. Ice storms are common than snowstorms in the winter. Expect nights to drop below freezing in the east and west part of the state. Wine and beer festivals receive ample patronage as the cold and dark days pass quickly to make way for long nights. Temperatures increase steadily by the end of the fourth week of February. Wear a jacket to protect from rain and cold while outdoors in the evenings. February is generally not an ideal time to visit Tennessee.
Weather in March
March welcomes the beautiful spring season to Tennessee, with a gradual rise in temperatures. The average high temperatures are between a mild 57°F (13.9°C) to 65°F (18.3°C), while the average low temperatures are in the cold 30°F (-1.1°C) to 39°F (3.9°C) range. Shelbyville in the central region registers temperatures in the 38°F (3.3°C) to 63°F (17.2°C) range. Rainfall is to the tune of 3" (76.2mm) to 6" (152.4mm), but snowfall hardly registers between 1" (25.4mm) and 2" (50.8mm). The weather is unpredictable, with occasional cold fronts that disrupt seemingly sunny days. A light jacket or a sweater makes outdoor stays comfortable by offering protection from cold and rain. Mornings can be refreshing with beautiful sunshine on one day while cold and rainy on the next. Flowers bloom everywhere and signal that it is the season to stop and smell the roses. Soak in a rainbow after a light morning spell of rain to experience the beauty of spring. March brings greenery to the landscape as the temperatures rise steadily in Tennessee.
Weather in April
April is warm and wet in Tennessee as the spring season comes alive with a splash of colors, singing of birds, and blooming of flowers. The precipitation is up to 5" (127mm) statewide, and snowfall limits only to the high mountain slopes. The prairie is lush green with a tinge of yellow, orange, crimson, and pink. The growing season receives a boost with the unfreezing of the soil due to the warm sunshine. The average high temperatures are in the warm 66°F (18.9°C) to 742°F (394.4°C) range, while the nights are above freezing in the 38°F (3.3°C) to 48°F (8.9°C) zone. Chattanooga in the east registers between 48°F (8.9°C) to 73°F (22.8°C), while Jackson in the west is between 49°F (9.4°C) to 72°F (22.2°C). Rivers, lakes, and streams receive a steady supply of freshwater from the heavy rainfall and melting of snow. The beautiful sunshine creates an energized atmosphere for boating, fishing, and hiking. The Great Smoky Mountains offer scenic views of cities such as Memphis below. April is an exciting time to visit Tennessee.
Weather in May
May brings rain and shine in Tennessee, with a steady rise in temperatures. The skies are partly cloudy to sunny most of the time, the air is sweet, and the landscape is green. There is no shortage of warmth in May, with the daily sunshine lasting at least for 8 hours. The average high temperatures are in the warm 74°F (23.3°C) to 81°F (27.2°C) range, while the nights are mild between 47°F (8.3°C) to 57°F (13.9°C). Snow disappears by early May even in the high lands and remains only in the ice caps of the mountain peaks. The days are ideal for visiting the many national and state parks and botanical gardens. Tulips and jasmines bloom all over the state, and one such beautiful location is the Big Cypress Tree State Park. Spring also sees the passage of frequent storms, so keep an eye on the weather before planning outdoor trips. May sees a rise in tourist footfall in Tennessee due to warm temperatures during the spring break.
Weather in June
June begins the hot and humid summer season in Tennessee, with the sun firmly in charge of the conditions. The longest days of the year extend to 15 hours and bring bright sunshine for 9 hours. The average high temperatures are in the warm 80°F (26.7°C) to 88°F (31.1°C) range, while the average low temperatures hover in the mild zone of 55°F (12.8°C) to 65°F (18.3°C). Thunderstorms are active in the summer and bring the majority of the 4" (101.6mm) to 5" (127mm) of rainfall in the month. Humidity is on the rise and results in much perspiration that makes it an ideal atmosphere to wear sweatshirts and shorts. Swimming finds many takers and water parks are abuzz with activities with the rise in heat. Be alert to localized flood warnings due to heavy rainfall. Expect the temperatures to rise with each passing day of the summer. The local population seeks cooler areas of the northern states to escape the oppressive heat of June in Tennessee.
Weather in July
July is generally the hottest month of the year in Tennessee, with temperatures occasionally crossing 100°F (37.8°C) in the interior. The average high temperatures are in the hot zone of 82°F (27.8°C) to 92°F (33.3°C), while the average low temperatures register in the warm range of 59°F (15°C) to 74°F (23.3°C). The sunlight is intense, but the rise in humidity makes the heat oppressive during the summer. Midsummer brings heavy rainfall, mostly due to the heightened thunderstorm activity. Large hail and high-speed winds also occasionally accompany lightning and thunder during the storms. A vacation rental on a lake, such as the Watts Bar Lake in eastern Tennessee, is an excellent getaway during the long summer days. Fishing, fairs, and farmers markets rouse interest in the public in no small degree. Light summer clothing is usually sufficient in the summer season except for periods of heavy rainfall. Spend time indoors during afternoons when the frequency of the storms is highest in July in Tennessee.
Weather in August
August is hot and humid in Tennessee, with the heat index stuck at the high end of the temperature range. Day temperatures are in the hot 82°F (27.8°C) to 91°F (32.8°C) range, while nights are warm between 58°F (14.4°C) to 73°F (22.8°C). East Tennessee and the high western plains see relatively mild temperatures than the central portion of the state. The precipitation is on the wane and registers between 3" (76.2mm) to 5" (127mm) statewide. August has at least 22 sunny days, a few of which are hot and cross the 100°F (37.8°C) mark. Lakeside spots command a premium, and mountain cabins see a rise in bookings. A dinner cruise down the Chattanooga River is a happy time during a summer evening. Storm activity decreases by the end of the summer, and temperatures decrease steadily. Camping grounds remain busy as the long days end in comfortable nights that are ideal for stargazing. August sees a rise in tourist numbers in Tennessee in anticipation of better weather at the end of summer.
Weather in September
September brings the beautiful fall season to Tennessee with a drop in temperatures and rainfall. Autumn is the driest among all the seasons, and the average temperatures subside in the 51°F (10.6°C) to 85°F (29.4°C) zone. The oppressive heat of summer gives way to the balmy conditions of fall as the intensity of the sun moderates considerably. Humidity levels are a few notches low, and cloud cover is at the thinnest. The conditions are perfect for visiting parks such as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and David Crockett State Park. The landscape begins to change colors by the end of September, advancing from east to west parts of the states. Orchards are full of apples and pumpkin patches, and corn mazes rule the roost. Evening breezes make driving and biking enjoyable. The fall season sees a rise in tourist numbers and is generally dearer on the wallet than the summer. September is a comfortable time to visit Tennessee.
Weather in October
October is the driest month of the year in Tennessee with 2" (50.8mm) to 4" (101.6mm) of rainfall. The fall foliage is at its peak, beginning from the second week of October in the eastern portion of the state. The cacophony of colors offers scenic views at lake shores, mountain slopes, and rural roads. The harvest season is in full swing, and the bountiful of agricultural produce is enticing for the fall weather travelers. The average high temperatures are in the pleasant zone of 68°F (20°C) to 74°F (23.3°C), while the average low temperatures register in the mild 39°F (3.9°C) to 54°F (12.2°C) statewide. Gatlinburg in eastern Tennessee registers comfortable temperatures between 43°F (6.1°C) to 71°F (21.7°C). The sunshine is bright and lasts for 6 to 7 hours during the day, but the nights tend to be cold. Lakeshores and mountains are ideal places to watch the beautiful sunrise and sunset in autumn. October is one of the best times in the year to visit Tennessee.
Weather in November
November sees the end of the fall season in Tennessee amid falling leaves and change of colors. The average high temperatures are between a mild 59°F (15°C) to 63°F (17.2°C), but nights occasionally end below freezing in the 31°F (-0.6°C) to 44°F (6.7°C) range. The first signs of snow are evident in the high mountains of the east in November. Precipitation is low and sometimes even icy. Outdoor photography is best during the sunny days and clear skies of autumn. Driving, biking, and walking through the nature trails and scenic byways of the beautiful countryside is the best way to explore the fall foliage. A jacket is handy to provide warmth during the breezy evenings. The colors begin to fade, and the trees lose their leaves after Halloween in the western part of the state with the increase in the cold. Expect the temperatures to drop gradually with each passing day of the autumn. November is the last month of mild weather to visit Tennessee.
Weather in December
December is cold in Tennessee, with the average low temperatures in the freezing range of 24°F (-4.4°C) to 35°F (1.7°C). The average high temperatures remain in the mild 48°F (8.9°C) to 52°F (11.1°C) range as winter has the shortest days of the year. Temperatures are colder in areas of high altitude, and the cold air remains stationary for extended periods in the valleys than the plains. Dover in the central region registers temperatures between 30°F (-1.1°C) to 48°F (8.9°C), while Bristol in the east is between 28°F (-2.2°C) to 48°F (8.9°C). The eastern ranges receive snow to the tune of 2" (50.8mm) to 3" (76.2mm), while the rest of the state receives light snowflakes. Winds blow at high speeds over the plains to increase the effect of the cold. The sunshine is moderate and lasts for only 5 hours during the day. Winter storms are frequent, and snowfall is not entirely unexpected even in the plains. Winter coats sell at a premium during the cold season in December in Tennessee.