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Weather versus climate: Distinguishing the concepts

Updated on July 13, 2011
Cloud cover affects weather as well
Cloud cover affects weather as well

Weather and climate are related concepts, though they do not refer to the same phenomenon. Both concepts describe atmospheric conditions. Weather assesses them over a short period, while climate describes them over a relatively long period – as much as 30 years.

Weather patterns help to establish the climate, but one can also determine what weather to expect in a specific period based on the type of climate. In addition, climate allows long-term forecasting of weather patterns. Weather and climate can change, but weather changes far more frequently – hence the saying “changes like the weather.” It may be misleading to posit that climate determines the weather though.

Time

As mentioned before, the time spans for weather and climate differ significantly. Weather spans mere minutes to many months, while climate spans months to several years. To allow for standardization, climatologists use weather data from a maximum range of 30 years.

The time factor makes weather far more variable than climate. One minute, you can have hot, dry weather and the next minute you can have a downpour. There can be climate variability or changing climate, but to ascertain this requires many years of observation. A number of factors can affect the climate – not just weather phenomena. The weather can change within minutes – from dry to wet, for example.

While climate variability exists to a degree, it takes protracted periods of observation and analysis to ascertain that this has occurred. Climate variability is not just determined by weather phenomena, however. It has affected by “climatic hazards” (hurricanes, typhoons etc.); eruptions of volcanoes (particularly the effect of the spread of volcanic ash); and other alterations in the earth’s system that affect it.

Sunshine influences weather, and also affects heat and temperatures.
Sunshine influences weather, and also affects heat and temperatures.

Factors influencing weather and climate

Weather is not just about sunshine or precipitation. It covers a range of variables that include, but are not limited to, winds, cloud cover, flooding and heat. Climate uses averages and measurements of conditions that affect weather. Rainfall averages, relative humidity, temperature and wind speed are some of the measurements that are taken into account. In addition, climatologists use specific atmospheric phenomena like El Nino and storms for this purpose.

One point should be noted about the use of averages. Averages are susceptible to distortion by extremes. Therefore, they only present a partial picture of climate conditions. As such, climatologists also refer to ranges when classifying climatic conditions.

Conclusion

The relationship between weather and climate is that weather is a factor that helps to establish climate. The similarities between the two concepts is that they are both variable. Climate is useful for its predictive element, but weather is more relevant to our everyday existence.

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