Weather vs. Climate: Definition, Differences & Effects

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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

This video lesson will guide you in understanding the difference between climate and weather. Discover how they are different but related and how they are the ways you can describe atmospheric conditions on Earth.

Weather vs. Climate

Thomas Jefferson seems to have done it all. He was our third president. He wrote the Declaration of Independence. He designed the University of Virginia. He helped create the Bill of Rights. He organized the Lewis and Clark expedition to the Pacific Northwest.

But did you know that he was also one of the first climatologists? Jefferson loved science and technology and had a keen interest in weather data. He kept detailed records of hourly and daily temperatures, described differences in wind patterns between inland areas and the coast, and understood changes in the Virginia climate due to land clearing.

Much of what we now consider common knowledge about weather and climate patterns was described by Thomas Jefferson, and his zealous record keeping provides current climatologists with a lot of past information. Though Jefferson didn't know it at the time, he was actually measuring two different, but related, types of data. The short-term atmospheric conditions are what we call weather, and these are all of the daily, hourly and monthly data he collected. The long-term atmospheric conditions are what we call climate, and these are those short-term weather conditions averaged over long periods of time.

If you think about it, this makes sense. Do you check the climate report for the day's temperatures and rain forecast? Probably not - you check the weather report. You also don't hear scientists and politicians talking about global weather change - they're discussing global climate change.

Let's look at another example. If you want to look at the average temperature of North America over the past 100 years, this would be the climate of North America for that period of time. However, if you wanted to look at conditions for each month, day or hour, this would be the weather of North America for those shorter periods of time.

Weather and Climate Are Related

As you can see, though weather and climate describe different things, they depend on each other to have any sort of meaning. Think about it this way: the weather is like short-term climate, and the climate is like long-term weather. The specific weather of any area depends on the climate, and the climate is the average weather conditions for that area.

For example, if you were going to vacation in the tropics, you might expect high temperatures, lots of sunshine, afternoon thunderstorms and high humidity. This is the tropical climate. However, you would still want to know what the conditions of each specific day of your trip are going to be, and that's the weather.

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