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What's the weather like? Here's a seasonal guide to the many climates of Asia.

What's the weather like? Here's a seasonal guide to the many climates of Asia

Timing is the key to a good vacation in Asia, where the monsoon-driven climate differs vastly from anything we experience in the Western United States. If you plan things right, and the weather cooperates, you can keep one step ahead of the monsoon as you travel through the region.

Prospective visitors to Asia may find sound weather information hard to come by. So you can better prepare for your journey, we describe the basic dynamics of Asia's weather and suggest tactics for more comfortable traveling.

The monsoon mechanism in brief

You can find most of the world's climate zones in Asia, from arid deserts in northwest China to tropical rain forests in Southeast Asia. Yet much of Asia's weather is driven by one major system: the monsoon cycle of winds that reverse direction about every six months.

Winter monsoon. In a great continental sigh, masses of cold, dry air blow from the central Asian steppes in winter, across the continent, and out over the warm Pacific and Indian oceans, even as far away as Fiji and Australia. There, over time, the air gathers moisture.

Summer monsoon. In summer, as the Asian land mass warms, it heats the air and causes it to rise. In its place, the cooler, moist ocean air sweeps inland, dumping billions of gallons of rain on the rice paddies of Asia (In August, a similar but localized "Southwest monsoon' brings moist winds from the Gulf of California into Arizona and California's Imperial Valley.)

Summer monsoon rainfall is heaviest in south and southeast Asia; inland areas and northeast Asia get more moderate rainfall.

The monsoon does not always mean incessant rain for days on end; many areas have short cloudbursts lasting an hour or so in the late afternoon. Then the skies often clear for the evening. Such rain often cools the air.

Typhoons, unlike monsoons, are brief powerful storms. Rising angry from the tropical western Pacific and Indian oceans, these tai feng (Chinese for "great wind') slam into Asia with hurricaneforce winds of up to 200 miles per hour. The areas hit most frequently are Japan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, and south Asia. Typhoons are more likely to occur in late summer and early fall, but they can strike anytime.

An overview of Asia's climate regions

Use the information that follows as a brief, informal weather guide in a normal year. But weather rarely conforms to a regular schedule. Some scientists blame the El Nino phenomenon for recent severe droughts in normally wet Southeast Asia and in Australia (and for record rainfall on our West Coast).

Expect some rain, heat, and humidity in most countries no matter when you go.

East Asia. Like all temperate regions, this is the realm of four distinct seasons (but with monsoons and higher humidity).

Spring and early fall are usually the best times to visit (Taiwan and Hong Kong are also pleasant through early winter). Winter's Siberian winds, unchecked by mountain ranges, bring freezing cold to Peking and Seoul. Japan's winters, though cold, are milder since the polar winds are warmed as they pass across the Sea of Japan.

Southeast Asia. In claimate as in culture and politics, Southeast Asia has a bit of everything from the dripping wet jungles of Burma to the cool highlands of Malaysia.

The winter monsoon, dry through most of Asia, brings rain here, especially to Indonesia, Malaysia's east coast, and northern Luzon (Philippines). During the driest and often hottest--months of May and June, travelers are likely to see more colorful weddings and harvest festivals, especially in rural areas.

South Asia. This is quintessential monsoon country; three-quarters of India's rainfull comes from the summer monsoon, Southern India is usually drier November through February (but Madras gets its monsoon rains at this time). Northern India is drier and cooler (mid-70s to mid-80s) October through January.

Avoiding monsoon rains is trickier in Sri Lanka, but ocean breezes keep temperatures (highs mostly in the 80s) and humidity a bit lower. Monsoon rains deluge the country's northeast and northwest coasts in winter, then drench the southwest coast, including the capital city of Colombo, May through July.

Reading up on Asia's weather

To find out about the weather where you're going, read the sections on climate in guidebooks and in the brochures of government tourist information agencies (through they seldom give proper emphasis to the role of humidity, and sometimes paint too sunny a picture of their countries' climates). Take to people who've been there, and to travel agents who specialize in the area you'll be visiting.

The World Climate Charts, published by the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers (736 Center St., Lewiston, N.Y. 14092), are a gold mine of hard-to-find information. For your taxdeductible donation of $20, you get a set of 24 charts, detailing high and low average monthly temperatures, relative humidity, number of rainy days per month, and sanitation conditions for 1,440 cities worldwide.

Adjusting to high humidity

You may find it hard to adjust to Asia's high relative humidity. The National Weather Service uses a discomfort index to show how high humidity combines with temperature to intensify the heat of summer. For example, Katmandu, Nepal's capital, averages a mild 77| in March, but with a relative humidity of 63 percent --uncomfortable for most people.

You can escape the muggy heat in even the sultriest countries if you spend most of your time in higher-altitude areas, such as Darjeeling in India and Baguio in the Philippines. Coastal areas are sometimes a bit cooler because of sea breezes.

To stay cool--or, more aptly, less hot--in the tropics, here are some essentials to bring: loose, light-colored cotton or cotton-polyester clothing; sunglasses, a hat, and a good sunscreen; an umbrella (to protect against both sun and rain); and powder or cream for fungus infections, which are more common in humid Asia. Ask your physician how best to replace the salts you'll lose through perspiration.

In cities visited by numbers of Western business travelers, such as Bangkok, Hong Kong, Manila, New Delhi, and Singapore, you'll find relief inside airconditioned hotels and restaurants.

Photo: In winter, a high-pressure front of cold, dry polar air (arrows) moves from central Asian steppes out to sea, cooling the continent

Photo: In summer, air pressure and wind direction reverse. Moist winds (arrows) blow northward from southern tropical oceans, bringing torrential rains
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Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Mar 1, 1984
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