Often, outlining the difference between related concepts is as easy as establishing the relationship between them. The difference between weather and climate is easily understood by establishing the relationship between them. Weather refers to atmospheric conditions over a short period, while climate describes atmospheric conditions over relatively longer periods of time – up to 30 years.
Weather patterns over time determine the climate, while the climate can determine what weather one can expect over a length of time. When persons want to say that something changes frequently, they state that it “changes like the weather.” Climate can change as well, although not as frequently as the weather. Weather is used to establish climate, and the latter can be used to forecast weather patterns in the long-term. However, it might be misleading to say that climate determines the weather.
Time is the defining factor in establishing the difference between weather and climate. Weather is identified for short periods, ranging from minutes to months. Climate is measured from months to years – for up to 30 years (the period climatologists use for purposes of standardization), but can be measured for any convenient period in between. The weather can change within minutes – from dry to wet, for example. While climate variability exists as well, it takes observation and analysis of a longer period to ascertain that the climate has changed. According to NASA, climate variability is related to weather phenomena, climatic hazards, volcanic eruptions and other changes in the earth’s system.
♦ Factors affecting weather and climate
Weather covers a range of atmospheric phenomena and conditions, ranging from sunshine to hurricanes. According to NASA, it is also affected by cloud cover, winds, precipitation, flooding, and heat – to name a few. Establishment of climate is dependent on the measurement of weather-affecting conditions over time. Hence, averages of rainfall, wind speed, humidity, temperature and sunshine – along with specific atmospheric conditions like hail storms and El Nino – are used by climatologists to determine the climate.
Climatologists do not only use averages, since these can be misleading if extremes are present. Ranges are also important for establishing seasonal changes in climate that can facilitate more meaningful classifications of climatic conditions.
♦ Types of climate
There are several ways to classify climate, but the Koppen system is the most widely used across the world. This system is based on a classification that defines five climate types:
• Tropical – high temperature and high levels of rainfall
• Dry – this is divided into semi-arid and arid subtypes
• Temperate – warm summer and cold winters
• Continental – large fluctuations in conditions with low precipitation
• Polar – Permanent ice and tundra
* Additional categories included in general classifications are Savannah and Mediterranean climates.
It is useful to note that both dry and polar climates often form desert conditions. Many persons are not aware that the polar climate of Antarctica and the dry one of the Sahara are both considered deserts. These areas have low precipitation and are uninhabitable, barren regions. Still, the term “desert conditions” is typically interpreted as referring to aridity.
♦ Types of weather
Weather is not constant, but because it affects our daily lives, we have ways to describe the different types of weather that might obtain at any moment. Some weather types are broad classifications – like coastal weather, tropical weather, mountain weather and cold weather. There are too many types of weather to mention, but the ones that are used everyday include sunny, rainy, cold, humid or stormy weather. Sometimes, other weather-affecting factors are used to describe weather types – for example, dry and windy, or cloudy and humid.
♦ Climatology versus meteorology
Weather patterns help to establish the climate; however, both are branches of atmospheric science that have related, but different focal points. Meteorology is the science of weather, while climatology is “the study of the climate of a particular region based on the weather records gathered over long periods of time.” (mapsoftheworld.com)
Weather is critical to the establishment of climate. However, just as weather is variable, the climate can change over long periods. Climatologists account for aberrant weather (like storms or severe drought caused by phenomena) in their classifications. Weather is what humans want to know most about. Climate simply helps to establish a pattern that enables long-term predictions or knowledge of prevalent conditions. If you are travelling to Curacao, it would help to know that it has a semi-arid climate. In terms of our daily lives, knowing what the weather is like in the short-term is definitely very important – if not more important.