Weather vs. Climate

It’s winter, and just as ever summer brings out kooks claiming that a hot spell in Colorado is the result of global warming, so too does winter bring out the kooks claiming that record cold temperatures and snowfall in New England means global warming is bunk. In both cases people are confusing weather and climate. So, as an Official S&R Public Service Announcement™, here’s the definitions of weather and climate, as well as a number of easy to understand examples of each.

  • The slowly varying aspects of the atmosphere–hydrosphere–land surface system. (source : American Meteorology Society)
  • The average of weather over at least a 30-year period. Note that the climate taken over different periods of time (30 years, 1000 years) may be different. The old saying is climate is what we expect and weather is what we get. (source: NOAA Climate Prediction Center)
  • Climate in a narrow sense is usually defined as the “average weather,” or more rigorously, as the statistical description in terms of the mean and variability of relevant quantities over a period of time ranging from months to thousands of years. (source: EPA Glossary of Climate Change Terms)
Weather is… Climate is…
…a thunderstorm. …a million thunderstorms in the same area over decades.
…a single tornado. …a region affected by seasonal tornadoes for decades or centuries at a time.
…a hot spell in the summer. …a hot spell that happens every at the same time and place every year for decades at a time.
…an extreme hurricane season. …decades of “extreme” hurricane seasons defining a new norm for hurricane intensity.
…India’s monsoon coming late one year. …the average date of the arrival of India’s monsoon averaged over the last 30+ years.
…the Amazon basin’s rain pattern today. …the Amazon basin’s rain coming every day in a given season for hundreds or thousands of years in a row.
…an unusually large amount of snowfall. …how much snow falls every year, on average, over multiple decades.
…an arctic cold snap causing record cold in Scotland. …arctic cold snaps happening at the same place at the same time for years or decades on end.

Any questions?

16 replies »

  1. So… weather is your Uncle Bob saying,”Winters aren’t what they were when I was a kid;” climate is no longer being able to find an ice floe upon which to abandon him?

  2. Snap…Ann strikes!

    So you’re saying that i shouldn’t be hoping for a little global warming so that it doesn’t take 24 hours for the prickles to abandon my finger tips after a day of work; i should just hope for a change in the weather.

    I’ve heard the sentiment that our current Saskatchewan Screamer (at least that’s what it’s being called round here) is a notch against global warming. But i throw a shoe at all those who bemoan the windchill as they run from their house to the car. And i have some unprintable words for the Weather Channel and it’s advice on “how to keep warm on the links”. How about how to keep warm on an open forklift before sunrise, bitches.

  3. Lex:

    My father was an ironworker, and spent some of his last working years building taconite processing plants in northern Minnesota — in the winter, a lot of the time. He got frostbitten often, and badly frostbitten once. I can’t imagine what it takes to work outside in cold like that.

  4. It takes mental toughness, that’s all you’ve got really. I’m helped by my reading of Arctic exploration and the Soviet gulag system. When it gets bad i spend a lot of time thinking how much worse it could be. Actually i pay very little attention to weather reports/forecasts (partly because a few miles here can change the weather drastically); i’ll be out in it regardless. It’s just weather…this will give way to being soaked which will give way to being cooked by the sun.

  5. Brain – thanks for this – I know some folks that might benefit from this information… it’s colossally irritating to have every weather report linked to “Global Warming.”

    Lex – dude, you need a tropical holiday 🙂

  6. Dawn – No kidding! I’m sick of having to explain to climate disruption activists who should know better NOT to claim that a drought is “global warming in action” or other nonsense. I shouldn’t have to police people I agree with, dang it! You want to talk to me about climate disruption, great, let’s talk about climate, not the bloody weather! (Yes, this annoys me a little. Does it show? 🙂

    Elaine – Thanks for the link. Interesting read.

  7. Choir, Preacher.. Preacher, Choir.

    The dufuses that need saving are still out on the street, not inside here where it’s warm (no pun intended).

    Although, aren’t the ‘droughts’ you’re talking about consistently gaining in intensity, year after year? Soon, when we look back, it will have been “for decades”, making it climate, not weather. Hence, on one hand you can, if you’re careful, watch climate happen just as you watch weather happen.. right? .. it’s like watching grass grow (or die of drought), though.. you have to be patient 😀

  8. I think scientists and the media need to work on their wording together (something I’m doing with many NCAR, NOAA and other scientists).

    From January 1, 2000 through July 21, 2009 according to the National Climatic Data Center, the U.S. had 288,783 heat records (mostly daily) compared to 140.072 cold records, so over a 2 to 1 ratio.

    NCAR’s Jerry Meehl is working on a paper where climate models predict the ratio of such heat to cold records will be 20 to 1 by 2050 and 50 to 1 by 2100.

    Thus heat records are a part of a trend that is consistent with global warming and I feel that this should be communicated to the public, the only questions are how and when and what the most appropriate wording is.