Natural disasters in Latvia

Climate of Latvia

The climate in Latvia is temperate continental. The population density is lower than in much of Europe and large parts of Latvia are covered by forests and agricultural pastures. It is possible to see wild animals roaming around if you drive enough around Latvia.

The climate (continental humid) is comparable to cities such as Moscow and Toronto. It has four distinct seasons, each associated with different tasks and colors.

Daytime temperatures in Riga range from an average daily high of +21,7 in July to an average daily high of -2,3 in January.

Nighttime temperatures in Riga range from an average daily low of +12,3 in July to an average daily low of -7,8 in January.

Kuldīga church in Autumn
Kuldīga church in Autumn when trees turn yellow, giving it a romantic touch. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Latvia is a small country, so there are little temperature variations. However, the climate in the West is generally milder (warmer winters, cooler summers) than in the East.

Winters are traditionally considered “white” although there may be periods of thaw. January and February are the coldest months. Several weeks every year may be very cold, going under -20 at night or even day. Throughout winter the interiors are heavily heated (by public heating, the bills of which make it controversial).

Snowy and icy road during winter
Snowy and icy road during winter. There may be little or delayed snow cleaning, leading to hazardous driving conditions. ©Augustinas Žemaitis

Summers are warm, but a few weeks may get very hot (above +30). Air conditioning is nevertheless limited with most homes and public buildings having none. Summers are the key period for seaside holidays.

The water temperature in the Baltic Sea is around 18 C in summer and is considered especially warm if 20 C. In lakes and rivers, it gets significantly hotter.

Latvian terrain is extremely flat (all country under 350 m), meaning there are no altitude-induced climate differences.

The June-to-September period has more precipitation but the difference is low with no real “wet period”. Considerable droughts may take place even during these months, but typically Latvia has more than enough water all year. February and March are the driest months.

Skyline of Daugavpils in summer
Skyline of Daugavpils in summer when the trees are green. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

If you come from outside Europe it may surprise you that Latvia is very far to the north: further north than any US, Canadian, Japanese, or Chinese major city. While the warm Gulf Stream supports its temperate climate and never allows Latvian ports to freeze, it could not change the day/night cycle. High latitudes mean that in the deep winter the days are quite short (7 hours) whereas in mid-summer they are very long (17 hours), with nautical twilight lasting the whole night. Daylight savings time means that winter sunset is even earlier, getting dark ~4 PM.

The time zone for Latvia is UCT+2 in summer and UTC+3 in winter (due to daylight savings time). In reality, the sun rises and sets some 30 minutes earlier in the easternmost reaches of Latvia than in the westernmost.

There are no natural disasters like volcanoes, earthquakes, or tornadoes (although the Western coast may get windy). Forest fires do happen, but they are minor. The cold in winter takes its toll sometimes but this is limited to the homeless. Heavy rains and strong winds do some damage, but usually only to the property and crops and this damage is minor compared to places like the United States.

Warnings and dangers

Latvia is a safe country.

Crime levels in Latvia are relatively small. The murder rate is on par with the USA. However, crime is spread much more evenly in Latvia than in the West, meaning there is no division into “dangerous ghettos” and “suburbs where nothing bad ever happens”. Instead, all the areas are safe if taking the usual precautions such as not leaving bags openly in cars.

No natural disasters have ever happened in Latvia, as it is well beyond the danger zone for earthquakes, tornadoes or volcanoes. However, the few coldest weeks of the year sometimes take its toll among the homeless. With good clothing and ability to spend nights inside there is no danger even during harshest of winters.

The biggest historic danger to Latvia came from its aggressive neighbors which have murdered hundreds of thousands of locals over the course of 20th century. Most Latvians still feel a danger that Russia could reoccupy their land, possibly launching a campaign of looting and killing. However, the probability that this would happen at any given time is low, especially as Russia is now pre-occupied with wars elsewhere.

Small immigration from war zones means that terrorism danger is extremely low. No people have died in terrorist bombings throughout the Latvian history.

There may be scams in Latvian nightclubs and taxis. However, Latvian people are quite reserved and don’t come to solicit, so it is possible to avoid the scams by avoiding services where they are more common. Public transport or rental car may be preferable to taxi.