Climate and Environment

Dusty Days: The Advent of Mexico’s Dry Season

When the seasonal rains vanish in the late fall and the surface water evaporates by early winter, regions across Mexico enter a long dry spell

Popoatepetl volcano in the dry season

Some argue that Mexico has only two seasons —wet and dry— but this is perhaps too simplistic to describe the natural cycles which come to pass across this great land of three lands.

As we have remarked in articles about the rainy season, its drenching waters bring vitality and color back to the landscape when they return in late spring.   However, when the rainstorms vanish in the late fall —almost as mystically as the winds that tend to usher them in— the cycle begins to unveil a significant change as the moisture evaporates from the ground and the air becomes noticeably drier.

The transition from drenching rain to dry land

When the rains eventually stop, there is so much moisture near the surface of the ground that it takes a couple of months for the full effects of the dry season to begin to be seen and felt across the local environment.  It’s this ‘evaporation’ period, usually lasting about eight weeks, that prevents an abrupt change from wet to dry, and thus causes a more graduated transition.

When the long dry does finally take hold, landscapes that were moist, verdant, and colorful turn to shades of yellow, brown and orange; dust and dander roam freely through the air, and the soft fragrances of rain-soaked flora are substituted by a dry and sometimes grating ambience that can on occasions combine to create an uncomfortable mixture of heat, dust, and dander.

The dry season by regions across Mexico

Different regions across Mexico experience the effect of the dry season in different ways, influenced by their latitude. elevation, and proximity to the ocean.

Northern Mexico

The vast, dry, deserts of northern Mexico remain arid during much of the year; most of the rainfall here happens during mid-summer, July through September.  Baja California typically remains dry most months; the southern areas of the peninsula can experience some rainfall in August and September; although the area is affected by hurricanes which typically brew anytime from June through November and will break any dry spells when torrential rains and tropical storms make landfall.

Mexico’s central highlands

The central highland plains, from Zacatecas in the north to Oaxaca in the south, defined by a series of majestic mountain ranges (and an array of volcanoes), are home to many colonial towns and cities situated at elevation.  These places turn dry starting in late fall, and become very dry and dusty by mid-winter.  High daytime temperatures peak during May, by which time both people and nature yearn for the refreshing return of the rains that typically return in May or June.

Mexico’s Pacific and Gulf coasts

The dry season begins in late fall, and if you’re situated along the Pacific or Gulf Coast, you can expect temperatures to begin to warm-up noticeably from February and by late March these coastal areas will be decidedly hot and humid.  The heat and humidity will prevail through the dry season, interspersed by sporadic storms until the rains begin again, typically around late May or June.

The Copper Canyon and Chiapas

Two of Mexico’s areas of out outstanding natural beauty offer quite different experiences during the dry season.

Copper Canyon: The breath-taking landscapes of the Copper Canyon in Mexico’s northwest turn to hues of yellow, orange, and brown during the dry season that begins in November and breaks in July.  During these dry months, the rivers ebb down to their lowest points, and during the winter months snowfall may settle on higher ground. Most travelers visit the canyons between July and November, although some purposely visit the region during the dry season to see the contrasts, especially if they have visited before during the rain season.

Chiapas: The moist sub-tropical region of Chiapas that is carpeted in forest and foliage remains verdant for most of the year, but rains are rare between February and May.  When the rains return in June, the turquoise waters of the Agua Azul waterfalls turn brown as the rains stir-up the river’s sediment; the pictures you often see of these splendid waterfalls are taken at the end of the rain season in late fall and early winter, when the rivers are swollen and the sediment has settled.

The Yucatán peninsula

The rainy season on Mexico’s southern peninsula typically ends in late October or early November.  As the region is situated near sea level, dry season temperatures begin to climb steeply from late February and reach their high points in April and May, when daytime high temperatures can touch 45-50 degrees Celsius (113-122 Fahrenheit).

The rains in the Yucatán region typically return in June, and although they can help to temper the heat, the humidity persists.  This region is also home to Cancún and the Riviera Maya and is why the ‘dry season is the high season’ for beach resort visitors and ‘snowbird residents’ (people who escape cold winters to live in Mexico) as daytime temperatures are more comfortable and afternoon rainstorms are infrequent.

Localized rains during the dry season

Rainstorms can roll in across the landscape even in the middle of the dry season.  They are akin to unexpected small gifts as they are infrequent and invariably localized: it can rain for a couple of hours in places across Mexico City and remain bone dry in the neighboring state of Morelos during the same week.  The highland mountain ranges tend to encapsulate these abrupt micro storms into the nooks, crannies and valleys of the local topography—soaking one place for a couple of hours and leaving another parched even though it’s only a few miles away.

Dry season rainstorms, when they happen, are usually shorter and much less intense than the dramatic and drenching seasonal storms which characterize the rain season. Overcast days that don’t yield rain can help to temper the day’s heat and make daytimes feel fresher and more comfortable.

Visiting Mexico during the dry season

Some visitors to Mexico purposely avoid the rain season, but as we’ve remarked elsewhere, this can be a mistake as the rains bring vibrancy, colors, and fragrances that you’ll never experience in the driest months.

By the same token, the dry season, which more or less runs from late fall to late spring, offers-up some opportunities that you won’t find when the rains arrive.  Beach locations are popular in the dry season as coastal temperatures moderate from their summer highs to become comfortably warm, rain is infrequent, and hurricanes don’t form this time of year.  The Monarch Butterflies overwinter here during the dry season, and it’s also the most popular time of the year for visits to Mérida and the Yucatán peninsula.

Learning to live through Mexico’s dry season

Most of the ‘snowbirds’ (part-time winter residents) arrive in Mexico sometime during October or November and stay until March or April of the following year, thus enjoying comfortable autumn and winter climates and avoiding the heaviest rains.

If you’re living in Mexico, or are staying for an extended period, learn about practical tips for living through the dry season, including helpful advice about how to stay well and comfortable during the driest months of the year.

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