Which city has the best climate in the world?

The 400 Cities Digital Nomad Index answers the question: Which cities globally are Cheap, Safe, and have the best Climate? A proprietary algorithm determines the 400 Cities Index score for each city from data on each of these factors.

Climate is a fundamental element in the enjoyment of life, or the absence of enjoyment. I am English and had experienced more than enough British winters by the time I reached 30. I decided, like the retired North American ‘snowbirds’ who migrate southwards in their camper-vans in the autumn, that when I had made a bit of money I would not subject myself to the miserable British climate any longer, where every cold and dark morning in January and February feels like Monday morning. The question is then raised: where to go?

The approach taken to assigning a score for climate to individual cities for the 400 Cities project is simple:

a) Identify the climate group for each city from the Köppen–Geiger climate classification.

b) Assign a score to each Köppen–Geiger climate group. The Köppen–Geiger system limits itself to classification. For the purposes of the 400 Cities project, I made a value judgement and assigned a score to reflect how pleasant a climate is in which to live.

The details of the Köppen–Geiger climate classification system are on Wikipedia.

c) Some Köppen–Geiger climate groups cover cities with quite different climates, specifically with a large difference in the amount of sunlight. In these cases I assigned higher Climate scores for cities which receive more sunlight in the same Köppen–Geiger climate group.

Before we get onto the Köppen Climate Groups, this map showing the Equator, the Tropical Latitudes and the Tropical and sub-Tropical regions is useful in understanding them.

Scores for Köppen Climate Groups

I treat each climate in ascending order of its liveability, so #13 is the worst climate and #1 is the best climate in the world.

#13 Dfc: Sub-Arctic. (Cold Summer Continental)

Score: 35/100

The Sub-Arctic climate is the worst climate in the world. Dfc climates occur generally in the 50s and low 60s North latitudes. This means Russia, Scandinavia, the uninhabited 90% of Canada, and Alaska. It also occurs in the American Rockies, the Alps, the Caucuses and the Hindu Kush mountain ranges.

People living in these cities must suffer what is judged by the 400 Cities website to be the world’s worst climate. They are listed by decreasing Nomad Index score (which is a function of Cost of Living, Crime and Safety, Climate, and Internet Infrastructure).

(The colour-coding in the tables -Red, Yellow, Blue, Green — represents the cost of living in that city.)

If you must live in this climate, according to the 400Cities index, Tampere, Finland is the best city, and Anchorage, Alaska the worst.

#12 Bwh: Hot Arid Desert.

Score: 30–40

I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name
It felt good to be out of the rain
In the desert you can remember your name
’Cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain
La, la
After two days in the desert sun
My skin began to turn red
After three days in the desert fun
I was looking at a river bed
And the story it told of a river that flowed
Made me sad to think it was dead

Cities in the Hot Arid Desert climate sorted by decreasing 400 Cities Nomad Index score:

Plus Dubai, Palm Springs CA, & Las Vegas.

Looking at that table, I have never travelled to the Hot Desert regions of the US, but I am sure that Phoenix and Las VegAS are more liveable and more fun cities than Riyadh or Karachi, which are ranked above them. The 400Cities.com website is entirely data driven and derives scores for individual cities based purely on Cost of Living, Crime and Safety, Climate, and Internet Infrastructure. There is no score for the aesthetic appeal and pleasures that a city offers, or for cultural factors. So the data in this case produces what looks like an anomalous result in ranking Riyadh above Palm Springs etc. Users can apply their own preferences using Sorting and Filtering in the Google Sheets to which the site links.

It surprised me to learn that Phoenix, Arizona, Las Vegas, Nevada, and Palm Springs, California have the same climate as the Sahara Desert in Northern Africa and the Arabian Peninsular. But a check confirms they are indeed similar. I imagine they are intolerable from May to September.

Despite what President Bill Clinton maintains, June is not golf season in Phoenix.

#10= Dfb: Cool Summer Continental (Temperate Continental).

Score: 49–73

The Cool Summer Continental climate lies in joint tenth position in the list of climates.

Dfb climates are immediately north of hot summer continental climates, generally in the high 40s and low 50s latitudes in North America and Asia, and also extending to higher latitudes in central and eastern Europe and Russia.

Most Canadian cities fall into this category, as do the US states of North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, some of Pennsylvania, and the North-East / New England: inland New York, Vermont, New Hampshire Massachusetts and Maine. Dfb also covers many cities in Eastern Europe, including part of Poland, the Baltic Region, Ukraine and the mountainous Carpathians of Romania (Transylvania).

There is a large spread of scores for this climate category because some cities are much warmer than others and receive a great deal more sunshine. Cities with Dfb Temperate Continental climate with highest climate scores:

Cities with Dfb Temperate Continental climate with lowest climate scores:

Plus Kitchener, Guelph, Barrie, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg.

All Canadian cities excluding Vancouver and Victoria get low climate scores. Defying all common sense, The Economist included in its Top 10 Most Liveable Cities for 2016 both Toronto and Calgary, as well as freezing Helsinki.

Economist’s Top 10 cities score in the #400Cities Index, 2016:

Calgary? Really? Here is Calgary on 9 November 2014, when the peoples of the Mediterranean are collecting the final grapes, pomegranates and walnuts and early citrus from the vineyards and orchards:

For Calgarians who dread the back-breaking snow-shovelling and bone-chilling cold of winter, they will have some chinooks to look forward to for occasional blasts of warmth.

“Most certainly we’ll see some *chinook events as well this year,” Vettese said. “We’ll certainly see some going forward this winter.”

  • A chinook is a warming wind from the ocean into the interior regions of the Pacific Northwest

#10= Af: Tropical Equator (Tropical Rainforest)

Score: 60

The climate at the Equator is in joint-tenth position.

Tropical climates are characterized by constant high temperatures (at sea level and low elevations); all 12 months of the year have average temperatures of 18 °C (64 °F) or higher.

All 12 months have average precipitation of at least 60 mm (2.4 in). These climates usually occur within 10° latitude of the Equator. This climate is dominated by the doldrums low-pressure system all year round, so has no natural seasons.

Citizens of Calgary and other freezing cold cities who shovel snow for many months a year and dream of chinooks might be tempted to assign a high climate score to the Tropical climate. But the climate at the Equator, while being indeed warm, is also highly humid. And very humid climates are neither comfortable nor healthy. That is not a subjective statement, but a fact.

There is a comprehensive discussion of the negative effects of very high humidity on comfort and health here.

Humidity generally is expressed as Relative Humidity and its value ranges from 0% to 100%. 100% means the given air volume cannot accommodate water vapour anymore. It is close to 100% at the Equator. Here is the data for Singapore.

In dry weather, the water vapour content of the air is less, so water evaporates faster. Conversely in humid weather evaporation slows down as the air cannot accommodate extra water vapour. The human body naturally releases sweat when it gets heated. The evaporation of the sweat reduces body heat. Hence in dry weather, the body cools faster and we will feel cooler than the temperature recorded. In humid conditions the rate of evaporation is less and the body becomes over-heated and we feel warmer than the actual temperature. That explains the discomfort of ‘muggy’ weather.

So irrespective of the recorded temperature, the temperature we actually feel also depends on the level of humidity. The temperature we feel is called Humidex. The figure shows humidex and comfort levels.

The climate at the Equator is the ‘White Man’s Grave’ of Somerset Maugham’s tropical novels.The figure below shows various threats our health and their relationship with humidity. The optimum Relative Humidity is 40 to 60%.

Cities on the Equator with climate Af, listed by decreasing Nomad Index score.

#9 Dfa: Hot Summer Continental.

Score: 60–73

Dfa climates usually occur in the high 30s and low 40s latitudes, with a qualifying average temperature in the warmest month of >22 °C/72 °F.

The largest Dfa region is in the Northern US.

#8 Bsh: Hot Semi-Arid.

Score: 70

#7 Cfb: Temperate Oceanic.

Score: 67–82

Cfb climates usually occur in the higher middle latitudes on the western sides of continents between the latitudes of 40° and 60°.

These climates are dominated all year round by the polar front, leading to changeable, often overcast weather. Summers are cool due to cool ocean currents, but winters are milder than other climates in similar latitudes, but usually very cloudy.

A large swathe of Western Europe north of the Mediterranean is Cfb.

Western Europe excluding the Mediterranean is notably less sunny than, and has a poorer climate than the United States. Compare the number of hours of sunshine annually. The least sunny regions of the US — the Great Lakes and the North-East and the Pacific North-West — have as much sun as Italy and Northern Greece, which are very sunny in European terms.

The Cfb Oceanic climate covers places in Europe as far south as the former Yugoslavia in the Balkans and southern France which have a pleasant sunny climates and as far north as Denmark and Scotland, which do not. For this reason the there is a large range of scores in the 400Cities website for Cfb cities from 67 (Gothenberg, Sweden) to 83 (Croatia and Montenegro).

Cities with Cfb Oceanic climate with highest scores:

Cities with Cfb Oceanic climate with lowest scores:

#6 Am: Tropical Monsoon.

Score: 77

Tropical climates are characterized by constant high temperatures (at sea level and low elevations); all 12 months of the year have average temperatures of 18 °C (64.4 °F) or higher.

The Am Tropical Monsoon climate has a distinct Monsoon season. This climate results from the monsoon winds which change direction according to the seasons. The Am climate receives a higher rating than the relentlessly hot and humid Af Equator climate.

You might as well take a winter holiday to Goa, Manila or Phnom Penh as Miami:

#5 Aw: Tropical Wet and Dry (Aka Tropical Savanna)

Score: 80

Tropical climates are characterized by constant high temperatures (at sea level and low elevations); all 12 months of the year have average temperatures of 18 °C (64.4 °F) or higher. Aw climates have a pronounced dry season and are the most pleasant of the three Tropical climates.

Cities with Aw Climate by decreasing #400Cities index score:

#4 Cfa: Warm Oceanic (Aka Humid Sub-tropical)

Score: 81–86

This climate usually occurs on the eastern coasts and eastern sides of continents, usually in the high 20s and 30s latitudes. Unlike the dry summer Mediterranean climates, humid subtropical climates have a warm and wet flow from the tropics that creates warm and moist conditions in the summer months. As such, summer (not winter as is the case in Mediterranean climates) is often the wettest season.

There may be frequent but short-lived summer thundershowers typical of the more southerly subtropical climates like the far southern United States, southern China and Japan.

The sub-tropical climate can be very pleasant. This is Montenegro:

A great swathe of the USA East of the Rockies and South of the Great Lakes is Cfa (Dark Green in the map below). The highly humid summers can be uncomfortable, especially for those in frail health who faint a lot.

Cities with Cfa climate:

You can experience the attractive Cfa climate in these cities on a small financial budget. Sorted by increasing Cost of Living.

A city I know well, Plovdiv, Bulgaria, has a Cfa climate. (See table above.) Spring starts in March. By late-April it’s warm enough to wear shorts and sandals, right through to mid-October. July and August are quite uncomfortable with the heat and humidity and people travel to the Black Sea which feels fresher with a cool breeze, although temperatures are the same. It gets really cold in winter, usually with snow in January and February. (More so in the nearby Rhodope Mountains, of course.) But the winters are reliably short and many winter days are delightfully sunny.

Even the short and sharp Balkan winter can inspire ‘California Dreaming’ kinds of ideas:

#2= Cwb: Tropical Highland

Score: 85–94

The tropical highland climate is joint-second in its appeal. This is a type of climate mainly found in highlands inside the tropics. It occurs in parts of India, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Mexico, and Brazil. Winters are noticeable and dry, and summers can be very rainy. In the tropics, the rainy season is provoked by the tropical air masses and the dry winters by subtropical high pressure.

This is one of my absolute favourite climates, as experienced in the jacaranda-lined streets of Johannesburg and Pretoria, South Africa where I lived years ago.

#2= Csb: Warm Mediterranean Climate.

Score: 87–90

The Csb Warm Mediterranean Climate is joint-second in its rating. It is similar to Hot Mediterranean climate with dry summers and mild, rainy winters, but summer temperatures are a bit lower. This climate occurs outside the Mediterranean region in Northern California, Washington and Oregon, coastal British Columbia in Canada, and Chile.

#1 Csa: Hot Mediterranean Climate. Score: 90+

The Hot Mediterranean clime Csa is the most pleasant climate in the world. It is the climate of Ancient Rome and Ancient Greece. It is the climate of olive trees, citrus, pomegranates and figs. It is the climate of Bacchus, the God of Wine. Cicadas sing at night and the air is heavily scented by oleander. There is not excessive humidity. Csa is the Land of Milk and Honey. It is Paradise.

See how the Hot Mediterranean Csa climate occurs in places beyond the Mediterranean region in places such as Kurdish Iraq (Irbil), Iran (Tehran), Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Northern India (also in Southern California, Mexico and Australia):

Here is the Csa climate in Albania at the end of September:

The Csa climate usually occurs on the western sides of continents between the latitudes of 30° and 45°. Summers are hot and dry, due to the domination of the subtropical high pressure systems, except in the immediate coastal areas, where summers are milder due to the nearby presence of cold ocean currents that may bring fog.

Which cities enjoy a Hot Mediterranean climate?

These cities in California, Australia, Mexico, India and Uzbekistan that are not in the Mediterranean region are blessed with the Csa Climate.

The 400Cities website pays a lot of attention to cost of living and assigns it a heavy weight in determining the most liveable cities in the world. These are the cheapest cities with that perfect Hot Mediterranean climate:

I shall sign off with a Rule of Thumb for finding a lovely climate. If vines grow and wine is made, you can be sure that is a beautiful climate in which to live.

There is lots more interesting data about the most liveable cities at 400Cities.com.

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