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Breakdown: Why there’s a difference between Weather and Climate

The difference between weather and climate is a measure of time.
Published: Jan. 28, 2022 at 12:26 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - We hear about weather and climate all of the time. There is, however, still a lot of confusion over the difference between the two.

Weather is a specific event—like a rainstorm or hot day—that happens over a short period of time. Weather can be tracked within hours or days.

Climate is the average weather conditions in a place over a long period of time, usually 30 years or more.

Think about it this way: Climate is what you expect, weather is what you get.

Here’s one way to visualize it. Weather tells you what to wear each day. Climate tells you what...
Here’s one way to visualize it. Weather tells you what to wear each day. Climate tells you what types of clothes to have in your closet.(ncei.noaa.gov)

When scientists talk about climate, they’re looking at averages of precipitation, temperature, humidity, sunshine, wind velocity, phenomena such as fog, frost, and hail storms, and other measures of the weather that occur over a long period in a particular place, usually 30 years.

For example, you can expect snow in the Northeast in January, or for it to be hot and humid in the Southeast in July.

The climate record also includes extreme values such as record high temperatures or record amounts of rainfall. If you’ve ever heard your local meteorologist say “today we hit a record high for this day,” they talking about climate records.

So when we are talking about climate change, we are talking about changes in long-term averages of daily weather. And a changing climate means there will be more extreme weather events, whether its more intense thunderstorms and tornadoes, hurricanes, or even winter storms and blizzards.

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