If you’re traveling to Kota Kinbalu, Sabah or Borneo for that dream holiday vacation, you’re inevitably looking for a weather forecast.
So let’s get that out of the way. Here’s a forecast for the weather in Kota Kinabalu over the coming 5 days according to the Malaysia Meteorological Department, but keep reading to find out why it’s not always correct.
Last updated on Mon, 23 Jul 2018 14:00 UTC +8 Asia/Kota_Kinabalu
The weather forecast often claims that it will be rainy or predicts a chance of thunderstorms. Given the ever present high humidity, a forecast like that is theoretically a good guess. With changing weather patterns, however, it’s not always a true story.
Sabah, especially Kota Kinabalu and the rest of the west coast, gets pummeled by the adverse weather effects of El Niño. During this weather phenomena is hotter than usual and quite dry. In fact, in 2016 the “wet season” was skipped entirely and Kota Kinabalu only saw less than a handful of meek downpours in the early part of that year 2016. The latter parts of 2017 were, inversely, characterised by heavier downpours and (not so unpredictable) floods.
El Niño aside (as it comes and goes in cycles), here’s what’s supposed to be normal. Sabah is situated in the tropics just above the equator between about 4°N and 7°N, with weather which is usually quite hot, but also humid.
Average temperatures, especially in Kota Kinabalu, hover around 30 – 32 °C, with an rare, exceptionally hot day that rockets to 38 °C, or a cool night that dips to 22 °C. Brrrr!
In the mountainous regions it gets as cold as 15 °C at night, but the coldest place in Sabah is surely the peak of Mt. Kinabalu, which at 4,095m above sea level can sometimes hover around 0 °C. Mt. Kinabalu has a climate of her own though, and the rest of the weather that applies to Kota Kinabalu and Sabah, isn’t necessarily true for Mt. Kinabalu.
Seasonal Weather in Sabah
Sabah is sometimes referred to as “The Land Below the Wind” due to being just below the typhoon and monsoon belt.
That’s the reason Sabah is usually spared from the region’s more ferocious weather conditions.
Sabah’s perpetual summer is usually subdivided into what is commonly referred to as wet season and dry season. Truth is, in a normal year, rain can be expected year round. Wet season typically runs from October to March, with April to September labeled as the dry season, although in my humble opinion should just be referred to as the not-so-wet season.
But even when it rains, hardly ever a whole day is spoiled. Downpours last 1 or 2 hours and can most often be expected in the afternoon or evening. Mornings are therefore the best bet for planning out door activities, which you think might be spoiled by a bit of rain.
Never is it more obvious than during a drought, that rain livens up the jungle. It energizes the forest critters, bring life back to drying leaves and make the green of Borneo all that much greener. Rain is vital to the vast jungles of Sabah. After all, it’s not called a rain forest for nothing.
Kota Kinabalu Climate Overview
Kota Kinabalu and the west coast of Sabah’s climate is sometimes starkly different to inland Sabah. The Crocker Range Mountains form a ridge all along the coast, protecting it from much of the harsher weather sometimes experienced inland towards the east.
Looking at the rainfall below you might be alarmed by the amount. However, when it rains it rains very hard, so a huge amount of rainfall can be recorded in an hour and then it might not rain again for the next week or two.
Let’s have a look at the monthly temperatures, annual rainfall and yearly average climate of Kota Kinabalu.
|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. Rainfall (mm)||2,621||119||60||74||128||228||290||258||259||310||351||304||241|
Sandakan Climate Overview
Sandakan is on Sabah’s east coast and her proximity to the Philippines is reflected in the markedly different rainfall patterns. Yet, even the east coast is still spared from the extreme weather that the Philippines often experience.
Below is the monthly temperatures, annual rainfall and yearly average climate of Sandakan.
|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|
Days usually start off bright and blue, with cloud cover rolling in towards afternoon, which is a good thing, as Sabah’s famous sunsets need some cloud to be truly spectacular.
Seeing as how most often mornings are bright, if you’re planning must-be-without-rain activities, then getting them done as early in the day as possible will increase your chances of avoiding the rain.
If you think the sun in Borneo burns in a different way, you’re right. Sunburn risk is always present, even – and perhaps more so – on overcast days. So remember to apply sunblock regularly and cover up.
Fair-skinned people beware: the sun here doesn’t feel so hot, perhaps because the air is already hot, but many a pink lobster tourist seen around town can tell you just how badly even a cool feeling sun can burn.
What time does the sun rise and set in Kota Kinabalu & Sabah?
Being close to the equator sunrise and sunset in Sabah varies very little during the year. Following the northern hemisphere’s seasons, summer sunrise occurs as early as 5.45am and sunset as late as 6.40pm.
The winter sunrise occurs as late as 6.30am and sunset as early as 5.45pm.
All said Sabah is a year-round destination. The weather, if anything, contributes to her splendour and should be enjoyed as such.