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Secondary Influences on Climate

The influence of latitude on climate is modified by one or more secondary influences including position relative to land and water masses, altitude, topography, prevailing winds, ocean currents, and prevalence of cyclonic storms. Climatic types combining the basic factor of latitude with one or more secondary influences include the continental and the marine. Except in the equatorial region, the continental type is marked by dry, sunny weather with low humidity and seasonal extremes in temperature; noteworthy are the Sahara and Siberia. Marine climates are characterized by small annual and diurnal temperature variation and by copious rainfall on the windward side of coastal highlands and mountainous islands; notable is the mean annual precipitation of 451 in. (1146 cm) at Mt. Waialeale, Hawaii.

The coastal, or littoral, climate is one in which the direction of the prevailing winds plays a dominant role—the east coasts having generally the heavier rainfall in the trade-wind belts, the west coasts in westerly belts. Both coasts have a climate resembling the continental during the season when the wind is blowing from the interior of the continent. An instance of the coastal type, in which the precipitation is accentuated by the nearness of a mountain barrier, is the west coast of North America from Alaska to Oregon, where the mean annual precipitation averages 80 to 100 in. (203 to 254 cm), almost all of it falling during the winter months. Elevation is the dominant factor in mountain and plateau climates, with the temperature decreasing about 3°F per 1,000 ft (1.7°C per 305 m) of ascent and rainfall increasing with altitude up to about 6000 ft (1829 m), then decreasing with further elevation.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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