Last year in 2017, a record 6.9 million visitors flocked to our fair city, often escaping to the beautiful warm weather from their snow-blanketed homes. While the winter Charleston weather is certainly a respite for our frozen friends to the North, let it be known that the Lowcountry climate is not consistent throughout the year. In fact that’s putting it mildly.
We are fortunate to experience multiple “high seasons” that are suited to the various events and festivals that pepper our social calendars. In the spring you’ll find yourself downtown in the homes and gardens festivals, whereas in July you would often find yourself very near a beach. So while the Charleston weather patterns may fluctuate year to year as with anywhere else, here’s a fair assessment from a local who has seen it all.
Now that we’re in the throes of December winter weather, that’s as good a place to start as any:
Mild and sometimes a little muggy. Usually the days are in the 50s and casual dress is fine. Some days can be a spring-like 70s, and it’s not too surprising when the temps plummet into the 20s at night, only to rebound to pleasantness by lunchtime the next day.
This unpredictable winter Charleston weather keeps the local meteorologists busy. Random rainshowers abound, sometimes for a couple days. The most common weather-related advice involves bringing in your porch plants.
And don’t bet money on a white Christmas; unless you’re talking about beach sand. When we are overcome with the desire to see snowfall, we head to the mountains of western North Carolina for a long weekend.
There are still a smattering of outdoor festivals, such as the Holiday Parades and a locals’ favorite, the Holiday Parade of Boats circling Charleston Harbor. Also don’t miss the annual pilgrimage to the Holiday Festival of Lights on James Island!
It’s getting colder, and we’ll often begin to see multiple days near or just below freezing. Some days can be pleasant, but a decent winter coat is a standard accompaniment. Winter storms are a thing, and may even produce an occasional snow flurry, however the typical storm is a tale of freezing rain.
These ice storms deposit sheets of ice on every surface, including sidewalks, roads, and most notably, bridges. Authorities will often close major, and sometimes all, bridges in the area. Since getting from just about any part of Charleston to just about any other part involves at least one bridge or two, these events hinder commute times to say the least.
If there is going to be an event that causes workplaces to open late and schools to even close for the day, it’s probably happening in January.
Our idea of outdoor festivals almost exclusively involves oysters, highlighted by the world’s largest gathering at the Lowcountry Oyster Festival.
Still cold, often seeing some of the coldest days of the year. Ice storms are still a possibility. So are oyster roasts.
As the month proceeds, we see the first harbingers of spring! Daffodils bloom and grasses begin to show their green. Even through chilly days the sun is pleasantly warming, and Charlestonians emerge to attend outdoor events and brunches.
Second Sunday on King Street is well attended, and many visitors arrive for the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition. Many locals get their Folly Beach fix during the Folly Gras festival.
Springtime is in full swing and we’re approaching our first high season, mostly focused around outdoor festivals in the historic downtown as well as other hamlets. With the arrival of crisp, clear days warming into the 60s and 70s, your native Charlestonians have also bloomed, taking on Sunday Brunches in droves. Rooftop bars were made for this.
Trees and flowers are sprouting, birds are chirping. It’s perfect. Many first time visitors threaten to tear up their round trip tickets and just never leave. That’s even before they find out that the city-wide Charleston Wine + Food festival is just beginning, showcasing the incredible and diverse cuisine mastered by so many of our world renowned restaurants.
This is also a perfect time to kick off the month-long Festival of Houses and Gardens, where the residents of these grand living museums open them to the public to experience the awe of masterful architectural preservation and exquisitely designed formal gardens.
There will be one last cold snap in March, then all vestiges of winter are gone. (Pro tip: visit Charleston in March and April.)
March, continued. It’s getting warmer, and flowers are blooming *everywhere*. Buy allergy meds.
Residents and visitors alike are basking in this sunny Charleston weather, mostly in the 70s and low 80s. Everyone is outside, digging in their gardens, dining on outdoor patios and rooftops.
The annual Charleston Bridge Run traverses the Ravenel Bridge, boaters begin to cruise the harbor and waterways, and sunbathers appear on the beaches and in many city parks.
While the Festival of Houses and Gardens is going strong downtown, Summerville hosts its annual Flowertown Festival, where the sheer masses of blooming azaleas is breathtaking. Music festivals begin, such as the acclaimed High Water Festival in North Charleston’s Riverfront Park.
Life is grand.
It’s getting warmer, a great time to enjoy everything Charleston has to offer from the beaches to the city. With temps in the 80s and even touching the low 90s, if you’re in the city, you’re wearing shorts. If it gets too warm at midday, head to the beach or a waterfront lounge.
Consider May and June the high arts season in Charleston, highlighted by the Spoleto USA Festival beginning near the end of this month. Many visitors arrive to explore the universities, notably College of Charleston and The Citadel.
The nightlife is rolling, and you will see bridal showers and bachelor/ette parties roaming the streets of the peninsula.
Summer has commenced.
Most days climb into the 80s, many into the 90s. Along with the hot, but bearable, daytime temperatures, we begin to see the onset of humid air from the Gulf. Some daytimes can get a little pasty, so find a breeze. Night times are still quite pleasant, and many social events are scheduled in the early evenings.
And then comes…
There is no sugarcoating this: Charleston weather in July is very hot, and very humid.
Summer is now in high gear. Daytime temperatures are mostly in the 90s and friends let me tell you, this is not a dry heat. If you are dressed in business or formal attire in the daytime, you plan your trips between air conditioned environments. Evening events are key, and often have a weather-appropriate dress code. I call it Charleston Casual.
Speaking of wardrobe, Charlestonians keep a swim suit in the trunks of their cars – you never know at what day or hour you are going to find yourself in someone’s swimming pool. It’s a faux pax to be unprepared for this.
The French culture and cuisine of Charleston, while typically a subtle undercurrent, shows a bit more flare on Bastille Day – so treat yourself to a proper Croque Monsieur.
Fireworks on Independence Day is a huge spectacle from every part of the city and on the beaches – the insider tip here is to find a spot where you can see multiple displays! Usually this is from a boat.
Thunderstorms are an afternoon occurrence in July – you can set your watch by them. Your family and friends from off learn from your social media photos that the Lowcountry is in the subtropics. CNN may show up.
Find a way to get yourself to a beach on weekdays.
At this juncture Charlestonians need a reprieve, planning road trips and checking airline fares. We’re heading to the mountains in the upstate, perhaps to beautiful Asheville. It’s also a nice time to return the favor to all those New Englanders that swarmed us in February, so we may fly North for a spell.
Back in the Lowcountry, we’re poolside to ride this out. Nothing is going on outside that doesn’t involve a body of water. In fact, the beaches are usually 10 or so degrees cooler than the city, with a nice ocean breeze. Go there.
(Pro tip: This is not the best time of year for daytime tours of the city.)
Autumn begins to manifest in fits and spurts, and the outdoors once again become flagrantly tolerable while wearing clothes, typically capping out in the upper 70s/low 80s. Sunday Brunch begins transitioning back to outdoor courtyards, followed by walking the city streets to afternoon cookouts and college football games. Expect backyard bonfires during the pleasant evenings.
Labor Day is a celebration of the mellow late summer days ahead. Charlestonians are taking in the waning weeks of summer by furiously hitting beaches, boats, and pools, often winding up at Folly Beach where the Sea & Sand Festival is a favorite.
September is also the month where our experienced meteorologists have turned their watchful gaze from sporadic thunderstorms to something more menacing: tropical storms are forming and begin to take aim at the Caribbean and Southeastern states. While the chances of a major storm directly hitting Charleston are relatively low, the occasional sideswipe by a hurricane is not unheard of and there is always a buzz about what’s brewing in The Atlantic. Sprawling tropical storms often affect the Lowcountry with swaths of rain and wind, and you will be invited to a boozy hurricane party.
Hurricane watching weather guys are local celebrities, so plan on running into them during the festivals and events that sprout in September: the month kicks off with Charleston Restaurant Week, a veritable tasting table of all the best cuisine the Lowcountry has to offer. Charleston Beer Week does the same for the robust smattering of locally crafted brews.
Charleston Pride celebrates the diversity and graciousness of our city, and the MOJA Arts Festival highlights the African-American and Caribbean arts that are foundations of Lowcountry culture.
A lovely month to experience Charleston as the temperate weather has returned the joys of outdoor living. Daytimes in the 70s (short sleeve), and just brisk enough at night (long sleeve). Autumn flowers are blooming, making our cities, neighborhoods, and parks an invigorating experience.
Outdoor festivals become rampant. Oktoberfest Charleston celebrates German heritage with a great deal of beer. Similar story for the last hoo-rah of the year at Folly Beach with Follypalooza, with plenty of opportunity to see many great live performances.
After an October brunch, walk off the shrimp and grits with a self guided walking tour of historic Charleston. For a more interactive experience look in to the Fall Tour of Homes, which showcases the masterfully preserved houses and formal gardens on the historic peninsula.
(Pro tip: for a jack-o-lantern use a pineapple instead of a pumpkin, and obviously use the pineapple in a rum punch)
The mild autumn weather continues with daytime temperatures in 60s and 70s, and outdoor life in Charleston proceeds unabated. Chilly nights are perfect for bonfires or gathering on outdoor patios throughout the day.
Barbeque festivals, and the adjacent Charleston Mac Off, showcase Charleston’s flair for these Lowcountry bites.
Charleston loves its parks, and locals in the know attend the biggest fundraiser (and soirée) of the year at Party for the Parks! Also keep your your big hat and seersucker suits fresh for the Steeplechase of Charleston.