What is the Difference Between Weather and Climate?
What is the difference between weather and climate? This question comes up often, so let’s address it. The main difference between weather and climate is the span of time being discussed. Weather is the short-term state of the atmosphere at a given period of time, usually somewhere between hours and months. For example, to say that it’s sunny today or it’s going to be rainy and windy tomorrow would be discussing the weather. Climate on the other hand is the relative long-term average of weather patterns. An example of climate would be to say that the Northeastern part of the US is typically very cold and snowy during the winter months. In any given year, this may or may not be true, but the historic average of the weather that this time of year (the climate) is indisputable.
Weather consists of the behavior of many atmospheric conditions. Some of this conditions include temperature & humidity, pressure systems, precipitation, clouds, wind, and much more. Weather can change from as little as minute to minute, up to month to month. For instance, to say next week is supposed to be cold and rainy, would be discussing the weather forecast. A common way to think of the weather is to think of what is happening with the atmosphere in the relative near-term. For instance, last week, yesterday, today, this afternoon, tomorrow, or next week would be good examples.
Why do we care about the weather? The weather is actually one of the first things many people think about every day. It can have an effect on what you wear and what you do each day. Knowing the current and near-term weather conditions can guard against you from being cold on a fall morning or protect you from driving through a blizzard when conditions aren’t safe. Weather is universally important to people from around the globe and is a great conversation starter!
Climate is a particular region’s long-term average of weather conditions. 30 years is a common time period Scientists discuss climate. Like weather, many conditions might be part of climate discussions. Some examples could be averages of temperature, rain, snowfall, or wind, among many other topics. As mentioned above, weather is about what’s happening with the atmosphere in the relative near-term. With climate, it’s more about what you would expect to see. An example of this would be expecting that summers in the Southwest will be hot.
Similar to the way weather changes over periods of time, climates also change. Did your parents ever give you the saying mine did? “When I was a kid, we used to walk up hill both ways to school.” Well, that one’s pretty hard to believe. But the other one that is common to hear is, “when I was a kid, we often had much worse winters, with much more snow.” This would be an example of climate change. If your region used to have more snowfall than it has in the past 5-10 years, that could be a change in the climate.
You might be saying, “Who cares?” Well, climate change can affect things like crop yields, water levels in lakes, and habitats for animals. For these reason, and others, we should all be concerned about climate of course. NASA and NOAA both study and watch the climate, along with many other organizations around the world.
So, the next time someone asks, “what is the difference between weather and climate”, you can answer them…it’s the time period being discussed. Weather is what’s happening now, today, tomorrow, last week, or next month. Climate is what usually happens in this area during the winter, or what I’d expect to encounter weather-wise in Florida during the summer.