There’s one big difference between climate and weather: time.
Climate is like a weather profile for a particular place. It takes into account long-term trends and records in all the ways we measure weather, such as temperature, precipitation, humidity and wind speeds. When an outlying weather event like an extremely harsh winter takes place, it doesn’t indicate anything about the climate by itself. But when a consistent trend like a 30-year drought is observed, there may be evidence the climate is changing.
Weather is the here-and-now: the short-term conditions of all those ways in which we measure weather. Is it rainy or sunny? Windy or calm? Weather may also refer to relatively longer-term trends, like the atmospheric conditions over an entire season.
Climate changes gradually, while weather can change from one minute to the next.
Predicting Climate Vs. Weather
You probably check the latest weather forecast more often than you check the latest climate predictions, but both are important.
Meteorologists predict upcoming weather conditions by using sophisticated weather models. These models combine recent and current atmospheric data to produce a range of predicted weather patterns, and meteorologists then use human judgment to further narrow that range for a more precise forecast.
Climatologists try to predict different types of events using much longer ranges of weather data. They look back through the decades to try to figure out how different the climate may be 100 years from now. Is the planet getting hotter? Are the ocean levels rising? Are extreme weather events becoming more common? The answers to these questions have clear implications for us all, but they’re of a completely different type than the question of whether it will rain tomorrow.
The accuracy of weather predictions is getting better all the time, according to a 2017 study by ForecastWatch. Between 2005 and 2016, forecasters improved their peak warmth predictions from a margin of error of four degrees Fahrenheit to three degrees. Five-day outlooks became even more accurate, improving by nearly one and a half degrees.
Climate prediction models are harder to evaluate for accuracy because of the inherent long-view nature of their predictions; we’ll have to wait decades, centuries or even millennia to see how accurate some of these predictions prove to be. But these models are also tested against the climate data of the past, and those that have proven an ability to accurately simulate the past are seen by many climatologists as having promise to forecast the future.
What Factors Affect Climate?
There are six major factors that influence climate, and many students like to memorize them using the mnemonic device, LOWERN. The six factors are Latitude, Ocean currents, Wind, Elevation, Relief and Nearness to water.
- Latitude: how near or far is the equator?
- Ocean currents: what temperatures are the waters flowing nearby?
- Wind: where is it coming from, and is it warm, cool, humid or dry?
- Elevation: are you high and dry, or lower and wetter?
- Relief: are high hills and mountains creating barriers for precipitation?
- Nearness to water: is an adjacent ocean providing more stable temperatures?
How Do Climate and Weather Affect Utility Bills?
The largest share of residential energy expenses is spent heating and cooling homes, and this cost is affected by both weather and climate.
You see the effects of weather reflected in your bills all year long. When the weather is mild during the spring and fall, utility bills are usually lower because HVAC systems are running less often. In the summer and winter, the bills are higher. And if you live in an extreme climate, the short-term effects of weather may occasionally get expensive. During a heat wave in Miami, Florida, for example, air conditioners may keep the electric meter whirring at top speed.
Changes in climate could eventually affect your energy costs as well, but with more big-picture implications. If you live in a cooler region where you often keep the windows open in summer, you may find yourself using the air conditioner more and more in the coming decades. If ocean temperatures continue to rise, coastal regions may see tropical storms and hurricanes steadily increase in frequency and intensity. Climate change events can even threaten energy production in a variety of ways, which could affect future energy prices.
So while there are similarities between weather and climate, they’re distinctly different, and both are important. One affects our day-to-day lives, while the other can change our whole perception of what “normal” weather means.