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Climate versus weather: What's the difference?

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The difference between climate and weather comes largely down to one factor: time. (Shutterstock)

When it comes to understanding meteorology, the difference between climate and weather comes largely down to one factor: time.

Put simply, weather refers to the day-to-day meteorological conditions of the atmosphere over a short period of time, whereas climate is the study of those weather patterns over an extended period of time, according to NASA's Rob Gutro.

"An easy way to remember the difference is that climate is what you expect, like a very hot summer, and weather is what you get, like a hot day with pop-up thunderstorms," Gutro said.

Weather forecasts focus on the short-term meteorological outlook for a given area, usually through the context of measurements like temperature, humidity, wind, pressure and precipitation.

"Weather is basically the way the atmosphere is behaving, mainly with respect to its effects upon life and human activities," Gutro explained.

Climate, however, is the study of those weather patterns and how they change over extended periods of time. It helps scientists determine what to consider normal for a given area.

"The climate record also includes extreme values such as record high temperatures or record amounts of rainfall. If you've ever heard your local weather person say 'today we hit a record high for this day,' she is talking about climate records," according to NOAA.

While people may think of long-term changes in climate as being human-induced, there are also plenty of phenomena - meteorological and otherwise - that can impact climate. Ocean temperatures can impact climate (think El Niño and La Niña), as can large volcanic eruptions, among other things.
Related Topics:
weatherclimate changewinter weathersevere weatheru.s. & worldsciencenasaNOAA