Climate and Night Skies
The climate shows a wide range of variability and is unpredictable. Weather varies according to latitude, longitude and altitude, according to contour of the country, situation on the coast or inland, direction and velocity of the prevailing wind, the humidity and temperature of the air, the temperature of the land and sea. Many changeable factors interact to govern the climate of any one locality.
Rain occurs on more than two hundred days each year with an average rainfall of ninety one centimetres. During the spring and early summer cold northerly and north easterly winds prevail, occasionally bringing sea fog. The mean annual temperature is 6.2` C (45`F). As a coastal locality, snow seldom lies long and the winters are comparatively mild for these latitudes although long and severe, dark, dreary and boisterous. Wind exerts a profound influence often blowing at gale force.
The weather in the area is very local and can be remarkably at variance within a twenty-mile radius. Strong winds, heavy snow and rainfall can affect close areas differently and can be experienced travelling in a short distance. The area is swept by moisture laden south westerly winds from over the North Atlantic Drift and by current depressions associated with rain cloud and changeable weather. The laving waters of the northern sweep of the Gulf Stream, which we call the North Atlantic Drift, keep our insular climate equitable generally described as mild and humid. The south west winds rising over the mountain barrier of western Scotland give heavy rainfall to the north west. A common feature is horizontal rain.
The amount and distribution of snow is extremely variable and being near the coast severe falls and ice are only occasionally significant. Roads are rarely blocked but even with light falls, drifting can be a problem and gritting and clearing are constant during threats. Heavy coverings have brought down power and telephone lines but in recent year's total isolation is a very rare event. In the spring of 1930, Durness was isolated for a week by a snow storm of great severity. Frost has a distribution somewhat like that of snow.
Durness enjoys relatively clean air. Occasional banks of sea fog or "haar" are brought onshore in the summer months and can persist very local for several days. Low cloud that develops in the moist and rain bearing winds envelops much of the higher ground and can be particularly persistent over the hills. Hill fog can cut down on the sunshine reducing the temperature and increasing the humidity.
On average, the sea temperature reaches a maximum of 13` centigrade in August and it's coldest in March when the average is around 6` centegrade. In these cool northerly latitudes, close to the north Atlantic storm tracks, there is a high proportion of days with rain and a correspondingly low insulation may be expected. The Durness peninsula is exposed and reaches an elevation of over seven hundred and sixty metres so that a high percentage of the area, all the surfaces above one hundred and twenty metres, is commonly subject to wetting by low cloud. Above one hundred and twenty metres, ground conditions are only intermittently dry.
North west Britain is an area of consistent progression and recoil of the oceanic and continental air. It is this which makes the climate so changeable and when altered by the relief of the mountain country consequently incomparable.
Daylight differs widely between summer and winter. Daylight in June approximates twenty hours a day while in January there is scarcely six. The skies both night and day are vast and variable. The northern lights and crisp clear starry skies can be captivating. The alterations in light at various times of the year and different times of the day reflect the landscape as an ever-changing kaleidoscope.
Local stories regarding the weather have become established and worth a note. When the Orkney Islands or the neighbouring mountains can be seen either a storm or continuation of bad weather is the certain consequence. When the sound of the breakers on the shore are heard distinctly it indicates frost. The appearance of the swan is a precursor of snow.
To experience conditions from all the seasons in one day is common.