Game of Thrones climate and weather: The North

A breakdown of the weather and climate of The North from ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’

The cold winds are rising in The North. Winter is here.

It is perhaps fitting to start where George RR Martin’s books and the HBO series both began and will end. Winterfell, the ancestral home of House Stark, is at the heart of Westeros’ largest territory—known simply as ‘The North’. It is referred to by Cersei Lannister as “too big, too wild” to be held by an outsider, and by Roose Bolton as “bigger than the other six kingdoms combined.”

The North has a harsh, unforgiving and cold climate in the best of times. Both the series and the books begin with scenes of “summer snows”. The peoples, flora and fauna from this land are necessarily resilient. But its climate isn’t homogeneous. In fact, it varies greatly depending on location. Moat Cailin, near the Neck, experiences very different weather than the Last Hearth, just south of the wall.

*In this previous post, I geographically defined Westeros and the entire ASOIAF planet*

Defining The North

The North is many different things to different people. For most of the ‘civilized’ realm, it is comprised of the lands north of The Riverlands, from The Neck up to the Wall, located between the Sunset Sea in the west and the Shivering Sea in the east. However, wildling tribes from beyond the Wall would say differently. They consider anything south of Westeros’ (now-defunct) 700-foot-high protection barrier as not the North.

For purposes of climatology, I will adopt a definition that the wise Maesters of the Citadel at Oldtown would surely find acceptable. I define it as all areas from the Neck northwards, all the way to the north pole of the planet which, theoretically, lies beyond/within the ‘Lands of Always Winter’. This means ‘The North’ in its entirety makes up more than 50% of the entire continental landmass.

Using the Köppen climate classification system, I have broken the North down into climate subregions and suggested real-world climate analogues. I also suggest possible air masses that are influencing weather.

Bear in mind that there are no actual measurements that could be taken, as this is a fantasy world, and thus the following estimates are purely based on information I’ve observed from the books and show. It is also important to note that the show is set toward the end of a long summer. So weather observed throughout most of the show can be considered more similar to that of late summer and autumn.

Northern settlements of note

  • The Neck (Moat Cailin) (48°N)
  • Whiteharbour (50°N)
  • Winterfell (55°N)
  • The Wall (Castle Black/Mole’s town) (62°N)

Climate

  • Humid continental in the south and central; subarctic in the north; Arctic tundra and ice cap mostly north of the wall. Oceanic along the west coast.
  • Vegetation is similar to that of a temperate forest in the south, near the Neck, transitioning to a boreal forest/taiga to the north. Near to and just north of the wall trees thin out, eventually disappearing completely.

Summer Weather

  • Predominant Air Masses:

A weak, dry, cold, Continental Polar from the north; a predominant Maritime Polar from the Sunset Sea in the west, bringing mild, humid, unsettled air off the Sunset Sea; low pressure over the Shivering Sea also fuels precipitation inland and in the east; occasionally, Continental Tropical air pushing north from southern Westeros and Essos is possible in the southern extent of the region.

  • Average Temp range:

Average Highs/Lows:

70°F/50°F at the Neck

65°F/45°F at Winterfell

50°F/30°F at Castle Black

  • Types of weather:

Most of the North sees wet, varied weather during the summer due to the predominance of a Maritime Polar airmass.

Winterfell sees mostly cold rain, but also a mix of snow, sleet and freezing rain, depending upon the setup.

More mild and rainy on the west coast and south near the Neck.

From the Wall north would see almost exclusively frozen precipitation (snow, sleet, freezing rain).

Winter Weather

  • Predominant Air Masses:

A powerful, frigid, dry Continental Polar and Arctic from the north spilling south and staying in place; a weakened Maritime Polar from the Sunset Sea in the west, which will struggle to affect inland weather in the north, and instead send strongest low-pressure systems and precipitation farther south (the Neck southwards); still, persistent low pressure in northern Shivering Sea (similar to the Icelandic and Aleutian Low) fuels heavy snowfall inland and in east.

  • Average Temp range:

Average Highs/Lows:

28°F/15°F at the Neck

10°F/-5°F at Winterfell

-5°F/-20°F at Castle Black

  • Types of weather:

Winterfell is absolutely frigid due to the predominance of a freezing, dry, Continental Polar and Arctic airmass. Despite this, there is heavy snow due to persistent low pressure off the coast in the Shivering Sea.

The west coast sees heavy rain, sleet and snowfall at elevation, and is cold, but not as cold as inland.

Southern parts of the region like The Neck would see very heavy snowfall, and cold, but not arctic, temperatures. Nor’easter-like systems could develop in this region and travel up the east coast.

From The Wall north is Arctic—very little precipitation, clear skies, cold as balls (The Hound voice).

Real-world climate analogues:

  • Winterfell = Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada
  • The Wall (Castle Black/Mole’s Town) = Labrador City, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada
  • The Neck (southern region of the North) = Hokkaido, Japan
  • The west coast = British Columbia, Canada; Scandinavia

Want to engage more with my content? Comment below your thoughts, opinions and ideas for future posts.

Or connect with me on social: Twitter @archerkhill and Instagram @archerh2

Bermudian-American journalist based in London 🇧🇲🇺🇸 Formerly @TheEconomist 🖋 weather + climate stan 🌎

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