What's the Weather Like on Orkney?

Sea haar on the Old Man of Hoy, Orkney
Colin Weston/Britain on View/Getty Images

What's the weather like in Orkney? The mild climate of this northern place will surprise you.

You may have heard that the Gulf Stream warms Orkney. But the islands are pretty far north - 10 miles north of the northern coast of Scotland. How warm can that be and what's the weather really like? Do people swim from its beaches? And where can you find the most current reports?

Be Prepared for Drama

My first visit to Orkney was in February.

I'd arrived after a few days in Aviemore, a resort in the Highlands of the Cairngorms National Park - where the weather was brutal. Almost as soon as I landed at Orkney's Kirkwall Airport I was peeling off the extra layers I'd donned for warmth.

That was probably a mistake. If you're planning a trip to Orkney, it's wise to keep in mind that mild and wild co-exist here and that wild weather is part of the archipelago's charm.

It's About That Wind...

The main seasonal difference on Orkney is the wind and rain. It is one of the windiest places in the United Kingdom with gale force winds recorded in low-lying areas at least 30 days per year.

Winter is the windiest and the wettest time of year but there is very little snow. In fact, never gets brutally cold. Average winter temperature is about 41 degrees Fahrenheit (5-6C). But it also never gets particularly warm. The average summer temperature is 59 to 61 degrees Fahrenheit (15C).

Cold sea fog and mist, known locally as sea haar, is common in the summer with some parts of the island experiencing more than others.

...And the Light

Early dusk in winter makes visiting some the island sights very dramatic. We first saw Skara Brae at about 4pm on a February afternoon. We bent in half against an onshore wind as we made our way toward this Neolithic village on the beach.

The sky It was already dark but it was bright with the sweep of the Milky Way. The atmosphere impressed on us the comfort prehistoric people must have found in the warm shelter of these stone dwellings

The extremes of daylight hours definitely have an impact on what you can do here. In December, sunset can be as early as 3:15pm with less than six and a half hours of total daylight. In June, around the time of the solstice, there can be 18 and a half hours of daylight - so you can go for your morning run, in daylight, before 4 am and be reading a book, outdoors after the 10:30pm sunset.

And What About a Swim?

With water temperatures ranging from about 17F in winter to 55F in summer, ordinary swimming is not on the cards. But surfers and divers wearing wet suits do find the summer water temperatures manageable enough to tackle the shipwreck dive sites in Scapa Flow.

Weather forecasts and webcams

  • The UK Met Office has regularly updated weather statistics, 1 to 15 day forecasts and long range, seasonal forecasts.
  • Kirkwall Airport Webcam isn't the most exciting webcam but it will give you a good idea¬† of what the weather is like on the Orkney mainland.