Köppen Climate Classification - BSk - Semi-Arid (Steppe) Climate - Cold Summer

Latitudes: Mostly around 30° to the low 50°s in latitude, but reaching to 20° in places.


Temperatures: Vary with latitude, elevation and continentality. Summers are usually warm to hot, though not usually as hot as hot semi-arid climates or hot deserts. Winters tend to be cold. Some snowfall is common in winter, though less than locations at similar latitudes with humid climates.


Tending to have major temperature swings between day and night. 20°C (36°F) or more.


Precipitation: Semi-arid. Average rainfall distribution is similar to nearest humid climate.


At higher latitudes, this climate tends to have dry winters and wetter summers. At lower latitudes, this climate tends toward dry summers, relatively wet winters, and wetter springs and autumns.


Relevant geography: Usually a transition zone between deserts (BW) and humid climates. Same controlling climate factors as deserts. Often found at elevated portions of temperate zones, typically near continental interiors some distance from large bodies of water.


USDA equivalent zones: 4-10


Soil: More organic matter and fewer concrete-like layers than arid climates. Soils in this region can vary greatly, having a blend of soil characteristics from arid and humid climates.


Dominant plant life of the region: Dry savanna (tropics) or short grass vegetation and shrubs.


Strengths/challenges for plant life: Greater potential for growing plants than desert climate, though not as much as humid climates. Pressure from fungal attacks is relatively low, compared to warmer, more humid regions. Drought tolerant plants are a must, without a reliable water source.


Garden plants that are a good fit for this region: Prickly pear cactus. Succulents.


Dominant animal life (or its features): Many and varied. Many ungulates. Plenty of reptiles, birds, and various predators. Rabbits.


Challenges for animal raising: Summer heat can be a challenge in some areas. The relatively dry conditions will make water management strategies necessary. Some areas have been overgrazed, making the unable to support as many animals.


Animals that are a good fit for this region: Cattle, goats, horses, camels, and sheep. Chickens and guinea fowl.



The steppe climate is usually a transition zone between deserts and humid climates. As such, it shares some of the characteristics of each. If you hate rain, but don’t want to live in a desert, this is a good climate for you.


Most cold summer semi-arid areas are located between the 30s and 50s of latitude, at raised elevations. They typically border Mediterranean climates or humid continental climates, and are often found in continental interiors away from large bodies of water.


In terms of the USDA plant hardiness zones, your location will likely be somewhere between zones 4-10. The temperature will vary with latitude, elevation, and distance from large bodies of water, but all will have cool to warm summers. Winters are cold and usually yield some snowfall. The days and night have wide temperature shifts, sometimes 20°C (36°F) or more.


Precipitation is typically controlled by the rain shadow effect of a mountain. Warm, moist air is forced up over a mountain. As it rises in altitude, the air cools. The moisture rains out, because cold air cannot hold moisture as well as warm air. The air passing to the other side of the mountain has very little moisture left to give. If it warms further, by dropping in altitude to the warmer lands below, it will act like a dry sponge, absorbing moisture, rather than releasing it.


This effect is not as pronounced in your semi-arid region as in a desert. But your zone is still rather dry, lacking the regular or persistent rainfall of a humid region. If you are in a higher latitude, you will likely see drier winters. At lower altitudes, your summers are likely to be drier than the rest of the year.


Soils in the steppe will have a mixture of characteristics from arid and humid zones. They will have more organic matter and fewer concrete-like layers than a desert. They will likely be more mineral-rich than humid zones. Soil pH may vary from moderately acidic to moderately alkaline.


The dominant plant life in your region will consist of short grasses and shrubs. These serve as food for the many wild ungulates of the region. The climate and available plant life make this zone fairly ideal for a number of grazing animals such as cows, goats, horses, sheep, and even camels. However, grass growth can easily be outpaced by overgrazing. Herd size should be realistic to the land available.


If you want to raise smaller animals, consider rabbits or chickens. Either would be suitable for this climate. Guinea fowl are also an excellent choice. They are very hard and generally more cautious of predators than chickens. They can be raised for meat and eggs.


Water management may be necessary for less draught hardy animals. However, this concern is less critical than in a true desert climate.


For gardening, you have an interesting mix of environmental characteristics. Precipitation is fairly low making pressure from fungal attacks lower, at least initially. And the mixture of soil characteristics may make amending the soil a bit of an experiment. Have your soil tested to find the pH and the mineral profile. Add quality amendments as indicated. Good organic compost is always helpful.


Water your garden deeply to encourage roots to grow as deep as possible. Shallow roots will dry out faster in your semi-arid climate. Shade cloth can help to protect plants from the intense UV light of your region. Also, varieties of plants that hide their fruit within the canopy of leaves will be better protected than those that thrust their fruit out into the open air.


Most conventional temperate garden plants can be grown in this climate. Some tropical plants may be possible to grow seasonally, particularly if you live closer to the equator. But you should be aware of each plant’s tolerance to frost and your specific location’s seasonal lows.


While most traditional temperate crops can grow in this zone, they aren’t specifically adapted to it. Consider edible succulents, such as prickly pear. Some varieties of these are quite beautiful and all produce edible pads and fruits with minimal care.