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An Illinois River Almanac

Jason Haupt's Energy and Environment Blog
Double Strike

Climate vs. Weather


There has been a lot of talk about climate change and its effect on the different weather patterns and how it is creating "super storms." Much of this talk is spurred from the Paris Climate Change Conference that was attended by many of the world leaders. This has also caused many public figures and politicians to weigh-in with their opinions. I have seen dozens of articles that have either supported or disparaged the subject of global climate change. To better understand the issue, I think that we need to clear a few things up with climate vs. weather.

In short, climate is long term and weather is short (minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour, and day-to- day). Climate as it relates to this discussion is defined by Merriam-Webster as "the average course or conditions of the weather at a place usually over a period of years as exhibited by temperature, wind, and precipitation." This means that the climate is not defined by a day, week or even a season. In fact, when scientists are talking about climate they are describing a period of many years. For many this would be at least 25 years.

When we are talking about climate, we need to keep in mind that a change in climate is seen over a generation or lifetime, not a couple of years. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that would seem to affirm that the climate is changing. We have all been told by our parents or grandparents "when I was your age I had to walk to school in snow up to my knees/waist" or some other seemingly implausible depth, mostly because we rarely ever see snow that deep. This is an example of how we have seen climate change over a lifetime.

Weather, on the other hand, is the atmospheric conditions at a particular time and place. Where climate refers to a long period of time, it can also refer to a region. Weather, however, refers to a specific point in time at a specific place. We have all heard the phrase "if you don't like the weather wait 5 minutes". That is a particularly good description of weather that highlights the way weather is tied to a specific time and not an average over a long period of time.

There is a big difference between weather and climate. Armed with the knowledge between the two, you are in a better position to understand what is being said by scientists when they talk about climate change.

If you have any questions regarding climate, weather or natural resources, please contact Jason Haupt (jdhaupt@illinois.edu).



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