Antarctic cruises

A Guide to Antarctica Weather at Different Times of the Year

If you’ve never travelled to Antarctica you might be wondering what awaits you. It may seem like a land locked in permanent winter, but with 1,860 miles between the South Pole and the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, it’s no surprise that there’s dramatic weather variation across the continent. When it comes to planning the trip of a lifetime the devil is in the detail, so here’s our essential guide to Antarctica weather at different times of the year.

Unlike the four seasons most of us live through, the White Continent has only summer and winter. Experiencing an Antarctic winter, between April and October, is reserved for scientists alone. Arguably a privilege you wouldn’t mind missing out on as the dark nights can last for weeks, with no visitors and average temperatures of -45° C (-50° F) – that’s more than twice as cold as the freezer in your kitchen.

Summer in Antarctica is a different story entirely. With sea ice retreating, the White Continent becomes accessible to ice strengthened expedition ships from November, and the season runs through to the end of March. That’s five months for adventures and exploration, and you can expect plenty of variety in terms of weather, wildlife and ice conditions in that time.

If you travel in November you’ll be amongst the first visitors to Antarctica after it has been locked in a dark winter, and the dreamlike scenery takes some beating. You could have the chance to walk on fast ice – frozen static shallows that extend out from the shore – and witness landscapes draped in virgin white powder, perfect for snowshoeing.

Weather in Antarctica in November varies depending on where on the continent you are, and it is less predictable this early in the season. The average temperature in Antarctica in November is -6° C (21° F) on the northern coast – further inland the weather is far more extreme. Photographers should look out for amazing golden sunsets and rare noctilucent clouds formed of ice crystals that appear as ghostly silver strands in clear skies.

The arrival of December brings longer days, with 24 hours of daylight giving you more time to explore. The average temperature in Antarctica in December is 0° C (32° F) on the northern coast. This relative warmth thaws the ice and revitalises Antarctic wildlife, so you can expect to witness the spectacle of the first hatching penguin chicks and returning humpback whales.

Antarctica weather in December is defined mostly by blue skies and sunny days, but you should never rule out the occasional blizzard at the bottom of the world, so make sure you’re well equipped with plenty of warm clothing. It’s possible to spend the festive season in Antarctica surrounded by sparkling ice and calving glaciers for an authentically white Christmas

The weather in Antarctica in January is much more stable as it is the height of the summer season, making this one of our favourite months to visit. The temperature in Antarctica in January averages 6° C (43° F). Travellers can expect a hive of activity as penguins welcome chicks into their rookeries. Daylight hours begin to reduce towards the end of January, although you can still expect longer days early in the month.

With ice receding to its maximum extent, February is the perfect month to cross the Antarctic Circle at 66 degrees south for the ultimate adventure and serious bragging rights. Antarctic weather in February remains warm and relatively predictable following the January peak. The average temperature in Antarctica in February is 1° C (34° F) which exposes a rockier landscape. The wildlife certainly makes the most of the milder days, with penguin chicks learning to swim in the shallows, whales feasting and seals hunting along the ice edge. You’ll need warm layers, but you can expect sunny days and bright skies, allowing you to adventure without distraction.

March marks the end of the summer season in Antarctica, offering adventurers the final chance to experience the White Continent before it becomes ice-locked and wrapped in darkness once more. The weather in Antarctica in March reflects this shift, and temperatures decrease as the sun starts to drop, reducing daylight hours by 15 minutes every day.

The average temperature in Antarctica in March is -5° C (23° F), but snow cover is still relatively light so you won’t get the pristine wonderland feel that November boasts. The focus instead is on wildlife encounters. March is prime time for whale watching, with guaranteed sightings. Look out for well-fed and curious humpbacks, graceful minke whales and if you’re lucky, orcas.

Whatever your favoured conditions, there’s something for everyone in Antarctica. Whether you prefer crisp piles of pristine snow, the rejuvenating sunshine of peak summertime or the shorter wildlife-packed days of the cooler late season, the White Continent’s five unique months won’t disappoint. 

Alex Mudd

Head of Swoop Antarctica

Alex returned from his first Antarctica trip ten years ago firmly bitten by 'polar fever' and obsessed with icebergs. Since then, in between further forays to the polar regions, he's been evangelising about the joys of expeditionary cruising and doing all he can to return to The White Continent.

An inveterate traveller never happier than when beyond mobile reception. Some of his more memorable adventures have included dog sledding in Spitsbergen, hanging out with Huli Wigmen in PNG, piranha fishing in The Amazon and chasing the Northern Lights in Greenland.