The basic tenets of Sabah’s weather are simple: it’s going to be hot and it will be humid. The weather can be described as such just about anytime of the year, making Sabah a delightful year-round holiday destination.
Sabah’s everlasting summer is divided into what is usually 2 distinct sub-seasons. They’re commonly referred to as the wet and the dry season, which really is a misnomer. It should more accurately be referred to as the wetter and the not-so-wet seasons.
The not-not-so-wet season runs from April to August, with September to March being the wetter season, known elsewhere in South East Asia as the monsoon season.
Sabah, however, is sometimes affectionately referred to as the land below the wind because it lies below the monsoon belt. Being outside of this area, Sabah enjoys relatively mild seasonal changes, with downpours that last for only a couple of hours when they do occur.
Most long term weather forecasts relating to Sabah inevitably include predictions of thunderstorms and rain. Being hot and humid, those chances probably always exists, but reality is much less predictable. To illustrate, here’s Kota Kinabalu’s 5 day forecast as provided by the Malaysia Meteorological Department.
For comparison sake, here’s the visual observations about the actual weather which we updated from time to time on our Rustic Borneo’s Twitter account. In light of the persistent hot, blue skies that we’ve experience so far this year, the updates may currently be somewhat repetitive.
The most recent cycle of El Niño has had quite the effect on Sabah’s weather. Starting around December 2015, the weather is uncharacteristically dry, so much so that it completely skipped the wetter season. Up until the end of April 2016, Sabah’s west coast, home to Kota Kinabalu, has seen only a precious few downpours, which have been relatively light.
So what is normal weather like in Sabah then?
Aside from the aforementioned heat and humidity, daily maximum temperatures around Kota Kinabalu are predictably in the 30 – 32C range, with evenings not much cooler than 25C. After a few consecutive days of rain, the average minimum and maximum temperatures drop a few degrees for a short while.
Towards the interior, especially once you cross the Crocker Range mountains in the jungle, the temperatures can be lower. Towards Mt. Kinabalu, as you gain altitude, the weather is markedly different and often cool. The extreme lowest temperatures are arguably found at the peak of Mt. Kinabalu, where during the cold of night temperatures approach zero.
On the east coast, where Sandakan, Tawau and Semporna lies, the temperatures are much the same, although statically they do get more rain than the west coast.
The Crocker Range Mountains form a formidable ridge that protects the extreme west coast from most of the harsher weather that the interior towards the east experience.
On the chart below it appears as if the average rainfall is quite high. Prolonged streaks of consecutive days of rain are rare, and when it does rain it usually never rains for an entire day. The downpours are rather restricted to a couple of hours and most frequently occurs in the afternoons.
Here’s an overview of the most pertinent climate statistics pertaining to Sabah’s west coast:
|Avg High °C||30||29||29||30||31||31||31||30||30||30||30||30||30|
|Avg Low °C||22||22||22||23||23||23||23||23||23||23||23||23||23|
|Avg. Rain (mm)||2,621||119||60||74||128||228||290||258||259||310||351||304||241|
Over on the east coast the weather looks a little different, with higher rainfall and humidity compared to Sabah’s west coast.
|Avg High °C||30||28||28||30||31||31||31||31||31||31||31||30||29|
|Avg Low °C||24||24||24||24||24||24||24||23||23||23||23||24||24|
|Avg. Rainfall (mm)||3060||410||250||200||110||150||190||180||200||240||260||350||450|