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Climate vs. Weather

As we look at the forecast, there is no question that we are in a bit of a warm trend.
Record high temperatures are falling this month at a staggering rate and it looks as if that pattern will continue through the end of the month.

But is it just a weather pattern, or is it a climatological pattern.

This is the topic of today’s article, the difference between weather and climate.

*As of 2/15/2017.

Weather

You may notice that every time we see a major snow storm or polar-like dip in temperatures, people are quick to post to social media about how, “Global Warming is a Hoax.”
But I have news for you– that’s actually an example of weather, not climate.

Weather is what is going on in the atmosphere. Typically short term, but ranges from what is going on this minute to what might happen in a week or two.
This is what affects our lives.

  • How warm will it be?
  • Will it rain? Or snow?
  • Is it going to be sunny next week on my vacation?

When you think about the different elements of weather, you are probably right.
They include things like: temperature, rain, snow, wind, clouds, humidity and all of the things we feel or see when we go outside on a given day.

So if weather includes all of these things, and even the next snow storm and major drop in temps coming in a couple weeks– what is climate?

Climate

Simply put, climate is the weather of a given place averaged over a long period of time.
Often, this length of time will be a few decades in order to get an accurate understanding of the actual climate.

30 years? That’s more time than most millennials have been on the planet!

Climate scientists look at things like sunshine, cloud cover, rain, snow, wind, temperatures, and even rare events like hail or severe weather.

So basically all of the same weather elements that matter to us on a daily basis, but the average over a long period of time.

Think of it like this. Miami is typically much warmer than Minneapolis. That’s climate. The long term norm of a given location.
People in Miami typically don’t own parkas while people in Minnesota spend most of the year trying to explain how great the summer are.
Climatologically, Miami is much warmer than Minneapolis.

So in order to talk climate and what is going on in a specific location, you have to compare weather to a long-term average.

Looking at a map in which we compare average temperatures to today’s is a good start. Then we have to look at trends.
How much of the map is above/below average? Is it prolonged?
And that is only the tip of the iceberg.

Why Do We Care?

Good question!
If weather is what we see day to day and from minutes to months, why does climate matter?

Climate is what matters when it comes to forests, water supplies, crop yields, and other long term affects of a prolonged change in the weather pattern.

Farmers depend on this for crops– a classic example being the long-term drought in California and many farms closing because of the lack of any water for so many years.

Forests– a warmer weather pattern meant beetles in the Rocky Mountains thrived instead of dying in sub-zero winter temperatures. Because of this, the Mountain Pine Beetle went on to kill a staggering number of trees in the Rockies.
Check out this incredible article on our page detailing what this means for Colorado.

834 Million Dead Trees Heighten Colorado Fire Danger

Those are just a couple examples, but the list is actually much longer.

What to Take Home

In short, all we as normal people, sitting on our couches surfing the internet, can really do with this little bit of science is know when posts on social media might be inaccurate.
Know that when you see a post about climate, you are most likely looking at weather. And not until there is a comparison to a long-term average do you enter a climate discussion. Even then we still have to look at the overall trend to get a true understanding of a climate or a change in climate for that matter.

After all, a warmer winter might actually mean more snowfall!

So don’t fall for everything you see on the internet.

 

For WeatherNation — Meteorologist Jeremy LaGoo

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