The Difference Between Weather and Climate
When you wake up in the morning, perhaps one of the first things you do is to turn on the radio or TV and check the weather report. “It’s going to be cold and blustery today,” the weatherman says. “You better take out your heavy coat.”
But why is there no climate report?
It turns out there is a great difference between weather and climate, although they are related. The commonality is time. Weather is measured in short amounts of time. It is happening now, tomorrow, this week. Climate is measured in long amounts of time. Most climatologists (scientists who study the climate) look at weather data for an area for 30 years before they have a good sense of the area’s climate. In other words, climate is the big picture, and weather is all the little details.
Officially, climate is defined as “the meteorological conditions, including temperature, precipitation, and wind, that characteristically prevail in a particular region”. Climatologists study and record the weather every day over a period of 30 years or more to determine the climate of a region.
Let’s take New England for example. Today, the climate in this part of the country, simply put, is cold and snowy in the winter, warming and rain in the spring, warming in the summer, cooling in the fall. In colonial times, this climate actually helped the colonists because it stopped the spread of disease; although it did make it difficult to have crops planted year round and did cause much death in the winter.
Many researchers believe that the climate is changing, for the worse, because of human activity. This has not been proven, though. It could just be a natural cycle of the Earth.
On the other hand, weather is “the state of the atmosphere at a given time and place, with respect to variables such as temperature, moisture, wind velocity, and barometric pressure”. The important part here is “a given time and place”. It is what is happening here and now.
Staying with our New England example, while the climate is the same in all parts of the region, the weather differs from one part to another. This is why all local TV stations have their own weather reports. For instance in Skowhegan, Maine it may be sunny with a high of 28 degrees and winds at 13 mph, but in Hartford, Connecticut it’s partly cloudy and a high of 36 (almost 10 degrees warmer) on the same day.
While climate is a long term view, weather is the here and now. So when the weather forecast is given, you should pay attention.