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The climate of California is what many would wrap up into one word: SUN. And yes, California gets lots of sunshine; those images we see on TV of sun tanned beauties walking on the beaches is very much true and real. There is, however, also plenty of variation in the climate of California; it is a very large state with varying degrees of latitude, elevation and proximity to the coast.

The climate in California can actually range from a Mediterranean climate of hot summers and rainy winters, to sub-artic temperatures (picture yourself on the top of Mount Whitney in the Sierra Nevada and you’ll start to believe the existence of such low temperatures). The California Current, a Pacific current, creates the fog which so often graces California’s coasts. The coast itself acts as a sort of mediator between the hot and cold, making the summers cooler and the winters slightly warmer. The further inland you travel, the hotter the summers get and the colder the winters.

Temperatures can range widely within the State of California; the average daily high in San Francisco during the summer months of July and August is 68 °F (20° C), and to indicate how much those temperatures can vary, 20 miles inland at Walnut Creek, the average temperature for the same period of summer is 87 °F (31° C). One of the most consistently extreme average temperature differences is that between Santa Barbara and Death Valley which is the difference between 4 °F and 35 °F (2 °C and 20 °C). In the northern portion of the Mojave Desert, on the east side of Death Valley, is the hottest point in the Western Hemisphere. Winter months in the Mojave Desert bring temperatures dipping to below 20 °F (-7 °C) on valley floors, and below 0 °F (-18 °C) at higher elevations.

Rain and snow are not things that you’d necessarily associate with California, but they too play a part in the climate of California. Westerly winds from the ocean bring in moisture, hence why the innermost parts of the state are the hottest, and generally, northern areas receive higher annual rainfall than the south. The mountain ranges also influence rainfall, with the wettest parts of California being west-facing mountain slopes. The high Californian mountains, such as the Sierra Nevada, the Cascade Range and the Trinity Alps, have a climate of snow in winter and moderate heat in the summer. Ski resorts, such as Lake Tahoe, Mammoth Lakes, and Mt. Shasta, consistently receive over 10 feet (3m) of snow and some years even more.

And so we can see that California lives up to many of its stereotypes of sun and tanned bodies, and yet also has a highly varied climate, in keeping with its highly varied range of attractions, flora and fauna.