Weather and Climate: What's the Difference?

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Weather is not the same as climate, although the two are related. The saying "Climate is what we expect, and weather is what we get" is a popular saying that describes their relationship. 

Weather is "what we get" because it's how the atmosphere is behaving now, or will behave in the short-term (in the hours and days ahead). On the other hand, climate tells us how the atmosphere tends to behave over longer periods of time (months, seasons, and years).

It does this based on weather's day-to-day behavior over a standard period of 30 years. This is why climate is described as "what we expect" in the above quote.

So in a nutshell, the main difference between weather and climate is time.

MORE: Why do we have weather?

Weather Is Day-to-Day Conditions

Weather includes sunshine, cloudiness, rain, snow, temperature, atmospheric pressure, humidity, winds, severe weather, the approach of a cold or warm front, heat waves, lightning strikes, and a whole lot more.

Weather is communicated to us through weather forecasts.  

Climate Is Weather Trends Over Long Periods of Time 

Climate also includes many of the above mentioned weather conditions--but rather than looking at these daily or weekly, their measurements are averaged over months and years. So, instead of telling us how many days this week Orlando, Florida had sunny skies, climate data will tell us on average how many sunny days Orlando experiences per year, how many inches of snow it generally gets during the winter season, or when the first frost occurs so farmers will know when to seed their orange orchards.

Climate is communicated to us through weather patterns (El Niño/La Niña, etc.) and seasonal outlooks.

Weather vs. Climate Quiz

To help make the distinction between weather and climate even more clear, consider the below statements and whether each deals with weather or climate. 

 WeatherClimate
Today's high was 10 degrees hotter than normal. x
Today feels so much hotter than yesterday.x 
Heavy thunderstorms are expected to move through the area this evening.x 
New York sees a White Christmas 75 percent of the time. x
"I've lived here for 15 years and I've never seen flooding like this." x

Forecasting Weather vs. Predicting Climate

We've explored how weather differs from climate, but what about differences in predicting the two? Meteorologists actually use similar tools, known as models, for both. 

The models used to forecast weather incorporate air pressure, temperature, humidity, and wind observations to produce the best estimate of the atmosphere's future conditions. A weather forecaster then looks at this model output data and adds in his personal forecasting know-how in able to figure out the most likely scenario.

Unlike weather forecast models, climate models cannot use observations because future conditions aren't known yet. Instead, climate predictions are made using global climate models that simulate how our atmosphere, oceans, and land surfaces might interact.