We’ve all heard these two words and often use them interchangeably. But they’re not the same! We explain how they’re different and why it matters!
Weather and climate. We’ve heard these words countless times before, yet it can be difficult to sort out exactly how the two differ, or why this difference matters. We break it down.
Weather is how the atmosphere is behaving now.
While both weather and climate describe the atmosphere’s conditions (like how hot or cold, wet or dry, sunny or cloudy it is), weather tells us how the atmosphere is behaving at this very minute, and how it will behave in the near future—in the upcoming hours, days, and weeks. The weather is always in a state of flux because warm fronts, cold fronts, high pressure, and low pressure continually come and go, temporarily altering the atmosphere as they do.
Weather Predates Climate
Another way weather differs from climate? It is the older of the two sciences. One of the earliest-known texts about the atmosphere—a book titled Meteorologica, which was written by the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle as long ago as 340 BC—attempts to explain how clouds, rain, snow, wind, and a host of other types of weather work. While Aristotle also talks of torrid, temperate, and frigid climate zones in his book, the ins and outs of climate weren’t explored in depth until the 1800s.
Over Time Weather Becomes Climate
Weather observations are taken multiple times a day (usually every hour) in order to keep up with any changes as they occur. When a particular day ends, its temperatures, humidity, cloudiness, etc. become an afterthought, as our attention moves to the next day’s weather, but these outdated observations are never truly forgotten. Over long periods of time, patterns begin to appear in collections of individual weather observations. And recognizing patterns in past weather can offer clues about what conditions to expect on similar dates and at similar times of the year down the road. These average weather patterns are what we call climate.
Climate is how the atmosphere tends to behave, on average.
In recent decades, the word “climate” has become synonymous with “climate change”—the variation of regional climate over time. But climate, plain old climate, describes what the average weather is like over long stretches of time, such as months, years, and decades.
Every place on earth has a climate type—a label that expresses the average conditions typically experienced throughout the year. For example, if a region sees high temperatures year-round, it might have a tropical climate. Or if it rarely sees rainfall, it might have a desert climate.
Our planet also has a “global climate,” which describes the temperatures, precipitation, etc. we experience, on average, worldwide.
Why Do Weather And Climate Matter?
It’s easy for most to see why weather matters: it has an immediate effect on daily activities. And since we’re often very interested in what will happen today than what’s in store for next month or next year, climate can seem somewhat useless. But think about it: have you ever wondered what clothing to pack for next months’ vacation? Wondered if a certain plant would thrive in your garden? If so, then climate means just as much to you as weather … you simply might not have realized it until now.
Written by Tiffany Means