Wild Weather: Six of the Most Extreme Climates in North America

North Amer­i­ca boasts some of the most intense, vio­lent­ly shift­ing weath­er pat­terns in the world and some of the most diverse con­di­tions. Check out this list of some of the most extreme climates—and learn how to sur­vive them if your next out­door trip takes you into sim­i­lar terrain.


Death Val­ley, Cal­i­for­nia: The Dri­est Place on the Continent

If you’re trekking to Death Val­ley, bring gal­lons of water and gal­lons of lotion. The high­est record­ed tem­per­a­ture in North Amer­i­ca occurred here in June 1913 (134 degrees Fahren­heit). And the parched, pun­ished land­scape is cer­tain­ly one of the most extreme there is. But this year, a love­ly sur­prise: Death Val­ley is expe­ri­enc­ing a rare “super bloom.” Unusu­al­ly high rain­fall has led to pro­lif­ic, vibrant wildflowers.

Snag, Yukon: Cold­est Record­ed Tem­per­a­ture in North America

On Feb­ru­ary 3, 1947, weath­er reporters in Snag watched their frozen breath turn instant­ly to white pow­der and sift­ed to the ground like minia­ture snow flur­ries. It sounds like a car­toon gag, but when the weath­er is a record ‑81.4 degrees Fahren­heit, it’s easy to imag­ine. Snag is still a place of epic chill­i­ness, with win­ter lows that still dip gen­er­ous­ly below freezing.

Explor­ers have staked their claim in some of the world’s most frozen cli­mates, and if you’re plan­ning to do the same on your next adven­ture, you’ll need to do some seri­ous prep work.

Dress­ing to stay warm is a top pri­or­i­ty under icy con­di­tions. Avoid cot­ton skivvies and stick to high-qual­i­ty wick­ing syn­thet­ics. It’s a good idea to dou­ble up on the under­gar­ments when you’re snow camp­ing. A light lay­er on the bot­tom and a thick­er more heavy-duty long sleeve lay­er above. Top those first lay­ers with some thick fleece or goose down then top the whole out­fit with some­thing Gore-Tex.

Flori­da: The Most Strik­ing State in the Union

Who needs daz­zling high-tech pyrotech­nics? Flori­da stays well charged with a per-year aver­age of 25.3 light­ning strikes per square mile and 1.45 mil­lion strikes overall.

If you find your­self in the mid­dle of such a wild elec­tric dis­play while camp­ing or hik­ing, find your­self the low­est spot pos­si­ble. In a treed area, look for a haven sur­round­ed by much taller trees. In an open area, look for a val­ley or low point, crouch down and put your heels togeth­er. Hud­dle as small as you can. Do not use a tent for shel­ter. Duck­ing into your car is a bet­ter choice—those tires are rub­ber, after all.

Alaba­ma: Home to the Most Pun­ish­ing Tornadoes

Alaba­ma feels the wrath of tor­na­does more vio­lent­ly than any oth­er state in the nation, with eight EF5—highest intensity—tornadoes strik­ing since 1966. These storms scream with 200 mph+ winds.

Pay atten­tion to those weath­er reports and avoid vul­ner­a­ble areas if pos­si­ble. If you find your­self caught, make avoid­ing debris top pri­or­i­ty. If you’re out­doors, with no shel­ter in sight, lie down and cov­er your head/neck. Try to stay in the most open area pos­si­ble to avoid debris.

Hen­der­son Lake, Van­cou­ver Island: Rain, Rain, Go Away

Gene Kel­ly could’ve sung all day in this wet weath­er par­adise. Hen­der­son Lake is North America’s raini­est region, with annu­al pre­cip­i­ta­tion of 271.8 inches.

The locals may get tired of cart­ing their umbrel­las every­where they go, but you know what they say: no rain, no rain­bow. Just have a good rain jack­et on hand and you should be covered.

Cen­tral and South­ern Cal­i­for­nia: The Most Extreme­ly Com­fort­able Weather

The Mediter­ranean cli­mate of coastal Cen­tral and South­ern Cal­i­for­nia (aver­age temps reach no low­er than the mid-60s dur­ing any giv­en month) draws flocks of snow­birds and a huge num­ber of year-round res­i­dents. But as much as this beachy place seems like a par­adise, it too hides some extrem­i­ties of weath­er. Low rain­fall leads to wor­ri­some droughts and is a con­trib­u­tor to the state’s fero­cious wild­fires. When rain does drench this nor­mal­ly dry region, mud­slides and flood­ing are a seri­ous con­cern. Besides, while it’s not tech­ni­cal­ly weath­er phe­nom­e­non, the earth under your feet is prone to vio­lent upheaval all year round (there’s no earth­quake sea­son). Even in par­adise, Moth­er Nature can be bru­tal.  Still, nev­er fear. These state year-round camp­ing tips will keep you in line!