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What is the difference between weather and climate?

Weather reflects short-term conditions of the atmosphere while climate is the average daily weather for an extended period of time at a certain location.

the mouth of the Russian River

A storm darkens the sky at the mouth of the Russian River, north of Bodega Bay, Calif. Weather can change from minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour, day-to-day, and season-to-season. Climate, is the average of weather over time and space.

We hear about weather and climate all of the time. Most of us check the local weather forecast to plan our days. And climate change is certainly a “hot” topic in the news. There is, however, still a lot of confusion over the difference between the two.

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

Weather is what you see outside on any particular day. So, for example, it may be 75° degrees and sunny or it could be 20° degrees with heavy snow. That’s the weather.

Climate is the average of that weather. For example, you can expect snow in the Northeast in January or for it to be hot and humid in the Southeast in July. This is climate. 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.

So when we are talking about climate change, we are talking about changes in long-term averages of daily weather. In most places, weather can change from minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour, day-to-day, and season-to-season. Climate, however, is the average of weather over time and space.