The climate of the United States varies due to differences in latitude, and a range of geographic features, including mountains and deserts. West of the 100th meridian, much of the US is semi-arid to arid, even desert in the far southwestern US. East of the 100th meridian, the climate is humid continental in the northern areas (locations above 40 north latitude), to humid temperate in the central and middle Atlantic coast regions, to humid subtropical in the Gulf and south Atlantic regions. The southern tip of Florida is tropical. Higher-elevation areas of the Rocky Mountains, the Wasatch and Bighorn mountain ranges, the Sierra Nevada, and the Cascade Range are alpine. The climate along the coast of California is Mediterranean, while upper West Coast areas in coastal Oregon and Washington are cool temperate oceanic. The state of Alaska, on the northwestern corner of the North American continent, is largely subarctic, but with a cool oceanic climate in the southeast (Alaska Panhandle), southwestern peninsula and Aleutian Islands, and a polar climate in the north. The archipelago state of Hawaii, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, is tropical, with rainfall concentrated in the cooler season (November to March).
As in most land masses located in the middle and lower-middle latitudes, the primary drivers of weather in the contiguous United States are the seasonal change in the solar angle, the migration north/south of the subtropical highs, and the seasonal change in the position of the polar jet stream. In the Northern Hemisphere summer, the "Bermuda High" over the subtropical Atlantic Ocean typically sends warm, humid air over the eastern, southern and central United States - resulting in southerly airflow, warm to hot temperatures, high humidity and occasional thunderstorm activity. In summer, high pressure over the north-central Pacific typically results in northwesterly airflow, stable conditions and cool to mild conditions along most of the immediate Pacific coast, from Washington state to San Diego, CA. In the Northern Hemisphere winter, the subtropical highs retreat southward. The polar jet stream (and associated conflict zone between cold, dry air masses from Canada and warm, moist air masses from the Gulf of Mexico) drops further southward into the United States - bringing major rain, ice and snow events, and much more variable, and sometimes dramatically colder, temperatures. Areas in the extreme southern US (Florida, the Gulf Coast, the Desert Southwest, and southern California) however, often have more stable weather, as the polar jet stream’s impact does not usually reach that far south.
Weather systems, be they high-pressure systems (anticyclones), low-pressure systems (cyclones) or fronts (boundaries between air masses of differing temperature, humidity and most commonly, both) are faster-moving and more intense in the winter/colder months than in the summer/warmer months. The Gulf of Alaska is the origination area of many storms that enter the United States. Such "North Pacific lows" enter the US through the Pacific Northwest, then move eastward across the northern Rocky Mountains, northern Great Plains, upper Midwest, Great Lakes and New England states. Across the central states from late fall to spring, "Panhandle hook" storms move from the central Rockies into the Oklahoma/Texas panhandle areas, then northeast toward the Great Lakes. They generate unusually large temperature contrasts, and often bring copious Gulf moisture northward, resulting sometimes in cold conditions and possibly-heavy snow or ice north and west of the storm track, and warm conditions, heavy rains and potentially-severe thunderstorms south and east of the storm track - often simultaneously. Across the northern states in winter (usually Montana/Dakotas eastward), "Alberta clipper" storms can be frequent, usually bringing light to moderate snowfalls, but often, windy and severe Arctic outbreaks behind them. When winter-season Canadian cold air masses drop unusually far southward, "Gulf lows" can develop in or near the Gulf of Mexico, then track eastward or northeastward across the Southern states, or nearby Gulf or South Atlantic waters. They often bring on the South's rare ice and/or snow events.