Nepal has a great deal of variation in climate. Its latitude is about the same as that of Florida, and a tropical and subtropical climate exists in the Tarai Region. Outside the Tarai, however, the climate is completely different. The remarkable differences in climatic conditions are primarily related to the enormous range of altitude within such a short north-south distance. The presence of the east-west-trending Himalayan massifs to the north and the monsoonal alteration of wet and dry seasons also greatly contribute to local variations in climate. Scholar Sharad Singh Negi identifies five climatic zones in Nepal based on altitude: the tropical and subtropical zone of below 1,200 meters in altitude; the cool, temperate zone of 1,200 to 2,400 meters in altitude; the cold zone of 2,400 to 3,600 meters in altitude; the subarctic climatic zone of 3,600 to 4,400 meters in altitude; and the arctic zone above 4,400 meters in altitude. In terms of natural vegetational regimes or distribution patterns, altitude again plays a significant role. Below 1,200 meters, the dominant form of vegetation consists of tropical and subtropical rain forests.
Altitude also affects annual rainfall or precipitation patterns. Up to about 3,000 meters, annual rainfall totals increase as the altitude increases; thereafter, annual totals diminish with increasing altitude and latitude. In addition to this latitudinal differentiation in rainfall, two other patterns can be discerned. First, given the northwestward movement of the moisture-laden summer monsoon (June to September), the amount of annual rainfall generally decreases from east to west. However, there are certain pockets with heavy annual rainfall totals, for example, the Pokhara Valley in central Nepal. Second, the horizontal extension of hill and mountain ranges creates a moist condition on southand eastfacing slopes whereas it produces a major rain shadow on the northern sides of the slopes. The aridity increases with altitude and latitude, especially on the northern slopes, and reaches its climax in the inner Himalayan region and on the Tibetan Plateau. Eastern Nepal receives approximately 2,500 millimeters of rain annually, the Kathmandu area about 1,420 millimeters, and western Nepal about 1,000 millimeters.
The towering Himalayas play a critical role, blocking the northwesterly advances of moist, tropical air from the Bay of Bengal, and ultimately leading to its conversion to rain in the summer. In the winter, this range prevents the outbursts of cold air from Inner Asia from reaching southern Nepal and northern India, thus ensuring warmer winters in these regions than otherwise would be the case.