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Differences Between Maritime & Continental Climates

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  • 0:01 Craving California's Climate
  • 1:37 Heat Capacity
  • 2:21 The Influence of Wind Currents
  • 3:13 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Joanne Abramson

Joanne has taught middle school and high school science for more than ten years and has a master's degree in education.

The temperature in California is perfect! How did Californians get so lucky? Read about maritime and continental climates to find the answer, then test your understanding with a short quiz.

Craving California's Climate

Ah, California. Home of beach weather in the summer and 60-degree days in the winter. Who wouldn't want to live there? But how, exactly, did Californians get so lucky? Why is their weather so wonderful? The answer to that has to do with the beautiful Pacific Ocean right next door.

The California coast has what is called a maritime climate. In other words, its climate is influenced by oceanic air patterns. Maritime climates tend to have cool summers, warm winters and a minimal change in temperature throughout the year. San Diego, famous for its year-round beautiful weather, has a high of 65 degrees Fahrenheit in January and a high of 75 degrees in July. That's a change of only ten degrees from January to July.

Compare this to continental climates. Continental climates do not have the stabilizing influence of a neighboring large body of water. Thus, their summers are hotter, winters are more severe and temperatures change more drastically throughout the year. Omaha, Nebraska, for example, has a high of 33 degrees Fahrenheit in January and a high of 87 degrees in July, a 54 degree change.

Okay, but this still does not really tell us why maritime climates are more temperate than continental climates. To understand this, we need to discuss heat capacity.

Heat Capacity

An object's heat capacity is the amount of heat required to raise its temperature by one degree Celsius. Water has twice the heat capacity as land. This means it takes a lot more sunlight to raise the temperature of water than it does to raise the temperature of land. And, conversely, it takes a lot longer for the temperature of water to go back down. So, land heats up and cools down quickly, allowing for quick and extreme changes in temperature.

If you live in an area that is near an ocean or a large lake, this difference in heat capacity works in your favor. The ocean tends to keep the surrounding air, and thus the surrounding environment, at a more stable temperature.

The Influence of Wind Currents

Okay, but New York is also by an ocean. The high in January is 39 degrees Fahrenheit and the high in July is 85 degrees. That is a change of 46 degrees from January to July. That's more mild than Omaha, but not nearly as nice as San Diego. Why is that?

This is the result of prevailing wind patterns, or the primary direction of the wind in a certain area. If you look at the map, the prevailing winds across the United States are Westerlies.

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