What’s the Difference Between Weather and Climate?

What’s the Difference Between Weather and Climate?
Posted in: Weather 101

What’s the Difference Between Weather and Climate?

There’s a lot of confusion about the terms weather and climate. Someone might say a heatwave proves climate change or a cold spell disproves climate change. Neither of these statements are true. Let’s find out why both ideas are false and explore the connection between weather and climate. We’ll also examine some different climate types around the globe.

What is Weather?

Weather is the current or short-term state of the atmosphere. For example, meteorologists on TV give you a weather report when they announce what’s happening in the skies right now or what weather is expected during the week.

What Is Included in Weather Reports and Forecasts?

A weather report will typically include conditions that affect outdoor activities, commerce, and aviation. The six primary elements of a weather report or forecast include:

  • Sky condition: sunny, cloudy, or in between?
  • Temperature
  • Relative humidity
  • Precipitation
  • Visibility
  • Wind speed and direction

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How Accurate Are Weather Forecasts?

Weather forecasts become less dependable the farther out in time you go. The forecast for tomorrow is correct most of the time, but a forecast ten days out is closer to a coin toss. The accuracy drops off as you get out past a week because a lot is happening in the atmosphere. For instance, a low pressure system that’s now over Japan could be over Denver in a week. A hurricane that hasn’t formed yet could develop and then slam Miami with 100 mph winds in ten days.

What Is Climate?

Climate is different from the weather as it’s a look at the long-term conditions of a location. For example, the Storm Prediction Center computes yearly tornado averages over 25 years; that’s a climate item and not a weather item. Additionally, the National Weather Service uses 30-year averages for U.S. cities to determine what climate type is in each location.

What Is Included in a Climate Report?

Perhaps the most useful climate information for everyday living is a local climate report for your city. It is designed to give a thumbnail sketch of what to expect for any time throughout the year. Climate reports may be daily, monthly, or yearly. Remember, these figures are typically 30-year averages computed by the NWS. The climate averages are sometimes referred to as the “normal” on a TV weathercast. A daily climate report includes:

  • Average high temperature
  • Average low temperature
  • Average rainfall, snowfall, or both

5 Climate Types

Average weather conditions vary greatly throughout the world. The typical conditions in a given area are grouped into one of several climate types. Here’s a couple of examples — the climate of New Orleans is much different than that of San Francisco, and the climate of New York City offers quite a change from that of Rome, Italy. Climate is classified according to temperature, precipitation, and the type of vegetation that grows there. There are five main climate types:

  1. Equatorial or Tropical — The average temperature is 64 °F or greater; subtypes identify wet and dry versions. An equatorial rainforest climate would be warm and very wet, and an equatorial monsoon climate would have a wet season and a dry season.
  2. Arid or Dry — This climate may be cold or warm, but either way, it’s too dry to support most plants. A hot desert location like Phoenix, Arizona, is an example of this type of climate.
  3. Warm Temperate — This climate type comes in subtypes based on hot or cool summers and dry or wet winters. Most cities in the southern and eastern U.S. are in this climate zone.
  4. Snow or Continental — A snow climate has at least one month out of the year where the average temperature is 27 °F or less, and it may have hot or cold summers. Anchorage, Alaska, is within a snow climate.
  5. Polar — There is no vegetation, and the average temperature in all months is 50 °F or less. Polar climates never have hot summers. Antarctica and the top of Mount Everest are polar climates.
5 climate types

Climate Change — A Quick Note

Remember that weather and climate are not the same, so a cold spell or a hot spell says nothing about climate. Long-term changes are the key to identifying climate change. There’s little doubt the Earth’s climate is changing as it is considerably warmer than 140 years ago. This warming is likely caused by increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere because this gas traps heat. There may be some small percentage of the warming caused by natural changes, but most experts agree industrial activity has caused the majority of the recent warming.

What Climate Do You Live In?

It might be fun to choose locations where friends and relatives live and identify what climate type they are in. Use the climate types to figure out what their weather might typically be like on a day in January or July. Monitor your weather trends over time to see how your local microclimate compares to long-term climate data!

Steve LaNore is a certified broadcast meteorologist with more than 30 years forecasting and technical experience. He has provided meteorological consulting for everything from insurance adjusters to court cases and is a nine-time award-winning author and broadcaster. LaNore has authored two books available on Amazon. He resides in north Texas near beautiful Lake Texoma.
June 21, 2021
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