Categories of the Koppen Climate Classification System

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  • 0:02 Climates Around the World
  • 2:37 Sub-Categories of the…
  • 6:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Joanne Abramson

Joanne has taught middle school and high school science for more than ten years and has a master's degree in education.

Join me for a trip around the world! Explore the different climate zones, discover the subtle differences between them, and learn the scientific classifications of each.

Climates Around the World

Let's get started on our trip around the globe! Be sure to pack a large variety of clothing, since the temperature will change drastically as we move from the equator to the poles. To begin with, take a look at this map so you can have a good understanding of where we will be going.

annual mean temperature

We are going to start in that dark red area right along the equator. This is the area of the planet that receives the most direct sunlight, so it is nice and hot! You can leave your parkas and snow boots in your suitcase for now. But be sure to have your bug spray, since we are going to the jungle!

Right along the equator is where we find category A - Tropical Moist Climates. These are the tropical rainforests of the world. This climate zone is very hot and experiences high levels of rainfall year round. The average temperature for all months throughout the year is greater than 64 degrees Fahrenheit.

Traveling slightly north or south of the equator, we now find ourselves in B - Dry Climates. It is still really hot, but these are our deserts. So, break out the sunscreen and sun hats.

Summers are extremely hot and dry, and winters can get quite cold. Only very specialized plants are able to live in this environment, since it is possible for plants to lose more water through evaporation than they would receive through rainfall.

As we continue to move away from the equator, we enter the yellow zone on our map: C - Mid-Latitude Climates with Mild Winters. These are our temperate, or comfortable, climates. Here, we have summers that are warm to hot with mild winters. The coldest month averages between 27 degrees and 64 degrees Fahrenheit.

We are continuing on our trek, and it's starting to get colder! We are entering zone D - Mid-Latitude Climates with Cold Winters. This is where we find the taiga, snow forests, or pine forests. Here, summers are warm, the hottest month averages above 50 degrees Fahrenheit. And winters are cold; the coldest month averages below 27 degrees Fahrenheit.

All right! We have made it to zone E - Polar Climates, or the arctic! Here, you must be very careful going outside. In the winter, if you are not dressed properly, you can get frostbite in under ten minutes. In the arctic, the average temperature for the warmest month is below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Sub-Categories of the Koppen Climate Classification

As you probably noticed during our trip, you can see a lot of variability within each of the climate zones. For example, the steppe and the desert are both part of zone B - Dry Climates.

This is where the subcategories of the Koppen Climate system come into play. These subcategories seem overwhelming at first, but they do follow a pattern. With a little bit of patience, you will be rattling them off in no time!

Lowercase letters f, m, s and w are used to differentiate patterns of rainfall and are only used for the moist climate categories, Zones A, C and D. f is for rainfall, and indicates precipitation all year round, with no dry season. Zone Af, for example, is Tropical Wet. This is a jungle that receives rainfall evenly dispersed throughout the year. The driest month still receives at least 2.4 inches of rain.

s stands for a dry summer season, and w stands for a dry winter season. Zone Aw is Tropical Wet and Dry. In this climate, there are more than two months with less than 2.4 inches of rainfall. This would be considered the dry season and, as the category indicates, it occurs during the winter.

m is for monsoon. Monsoon climates have a definite wet season and a short dry season. Dry months receive less than 2.4 inches of rain. This category is only found in Zone A, as the classification Am - Tropical Monsoon.

As we discussed earlier, Zone B, the Dry Climates, are further broken down into the uppercase letters S and W. S is for steppe, the semi-dry zones. W is for deserts, or dry zones. Though it is a bit dramatic, you can think of W as standing for wasteland.

The Polar Climates, Zone E, also have two subtypes, indicated by the capital letters F and T. T is for tundra and F is for frozen. Zone EF, for example is the Polar Ice Cap and is permanently covered in ice.

Zone ET is the Polar Tundra, which thaws during the summer.

Zones B, C and D, which cover the majority of the planet, are even further divided into a third subcategory.

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