Climate

climate1The climate of Colombia is perfect for agriculture, enjoying typical weather patterns for near-equator regions, with tropical and isothermal climate predominating. Other influences are the trade winds and the effect of the Inter-tropical Zone on precipitation. Colombia is also affected by the El Niño and La Niña phenomena.

Temperatures generally decrease about 3.5°F (2°C) for every 1,000 feet (300 meters) increase in altitude above sea level, presenting perpetual snowy peaks to hot river valleys and basins.

Rainfall is concentrated in two wet seasons (roughly corresponding to the spring and fall of temperate latitudes), but varies considerably by location. Colombia's Pacific coast has one of the highest levels of rainfall in the world, with the south east often drenched by more than 200 inches (510 cm) of rain per year. On the other hand, rainfall in parts of the Guajira Peninsula seldom exceeds 30 inches (76 cm) per year. Rainfall in the rest of the country runs between these two extremes.

The hot and humid Colombian Pacific coast is one of the rainiest regions in the world.

Altitude not only affects temperature but is also one of the most important influences on vegetation patterns. The mountainous parts of the country can be divided into several vegetation zones according to altitude, although the altitude limits of each zone may vary somewhat depending on the latitude.

Below 3,300 feet (1,000 m) are the tropical crops of the tierra caliente (hot land). The most productive land and the majority of the population can be found in the tierra templada (temperate land, 3,300 - 6,600 ft or 1,000 - 2,000 m), which provide the best conditions for the country's coffee growers, and the tierra fria (cold land, 6,600 - 10,500 feet/2,000 - 3,200 m), where wheat and potatoes dominate.

Beyond this lie the alpine conditions of the zona forestada (forested zone), 10,500 - 12,800 feet/3,200 - 3,900 m) and then the treeless grasslands of the paramos (12,800 - 15,100 feet/3,900 - 4,600 m). Above 15,100 feet (4,600 m), where temperatures are below freezing, is the nieves perpetuas, a zone of permanent snow and ice.

Colombian flora and fauna also interact with climate zone patterns. Scrub woodland of scattered trees and bushes dominates the semi-arid north-eastern steppe and tropical desert. To the south, savanna (tropical grassland) vegetation covers the eastern plains, the Colombian portion of the Llanos.

The rainy areas in the south east are blanketed by tropical rainforest. In the mountains, the spotty patterns of precipitation in alpine areas complicate vegetation patterns. The rainy side of a mountain may be lush and green, while the other side, in the rain shadow, may be parched.