Weather: Kazakhstan

This is the behemoth of Central Asian countries, a sprawling land that spans 40° in longitude. That's one-tenth of the way around the globe, fully twice the breadth of India. But Kazakhstan features less weather variety than you might expect across such a vast area, mainly as a result of its landlocked location. Only the Caspian and Aral Seas provide any marine influence, and it's minimal at best. Aktau, on the east Caspian coast, averages less than 150mm/6in of rain a year, and winds top 54kph/34mph on more than eighty days a year. Decades of irrigation have drained most of the Aral, devastating the region's economy and ecology. The northern steppes, brushed by bands of summer showers and thunderstorms, average roughly 500mm/20in in annual moisture. Wet spells may settle into the mountainous southern fringe, including Almaty, from March into May, followed by early-summer thunderstorms. Temperatures across Kazakhstan combine the dramatic seasonal shifts of Russia with plenty of wind and the large daily range of an arid climate. Winters are somewhat cloudy and quite cold: most spots dip below –10°C/14°F regularly. Relief comes to the north-facing mountain slopes with the downslope fohn winds, which can howl at over 160kph/100mph through narrow gaps such as the Dzhungarskiy northeast of Almaty. Summers are pleasantly warm at altitude and hot on the plains and plateau.