Climate and weather, What’s the difference?

Climate and weather, What’s the difference?

Easy to remember difference between weather and climate

Across the United States, people have been locked in a struggle with mother nature. The harsh winter weather is being felt from coast to coast, people are seeing snow in places that rarely see snow, regions have experienced a wetter winter, and temperature seems colder than normal. This raises the question, does this weather show the climate is changing? From these recent trends (the polar vortex from last season), it would appear that things are getting colder. But this is not the correct interpretation of what a seemingly colder winter means, we are confusing the difference between weather and climate. We can simplify the distinction by thinking about the difference between the two in this simple way. Weather is akin to thinking “should i bring my umbrella today?”, while we can think of climate as, “should I buy a thicker down jacket that will last me years?”


With these differences in mind, it should be less confusing when people talk about climate change as meaning global warming. One might make the assumption that our current colder winters mean that things are not getting warmer. But this is not so, NASA studies the earth’s climate by examining the average weather over a 30 year or longer time period. From that compilation of data, they can anticipate future climate trends. Those trends show that things are in fact heating up across the planet.


The measurements that are used to come to this conclusion go back to the 1880s. We have over 100 years of data that show this warming trend, and while the increase, +1.4℉, may seem small it has mostly occurred in the last 30 years. Small changes in temperature can have an outsized effect, a -9℉ cooling buried most of the planet in huge sheets of ice 20,000 years ago. Ice sheets extended all the way to New York City and covered most of Europe(LGM).


NASA scientist are used to dealing with very large timeframes! Predictions for the future anticipate up to a +9℉ increase by the end of the century. These worst case scenario predictions have a corresponding sea level rise which will swallow up much of the current coastline. Cities and countries will disappear forever and billions of people will be displaced across the planet. We can see that the climate has been drastically different in the not too distant past, the only constant is change. The good news is that we still have some control over our future climate! This will the topic for upcoming blog posts where I expand on what is being done across the globe to limit climate change and combat its adverse effects.


Written by Jeremy Brown