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!