What is the Difference between Weather and Climate

Mark Twain is sometimes credited for the saying, “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes and it will change.“ He was talking about New England, but that statement could fit many parts of the country. That is what weather does, it changes. The weather, or day to day atmospheric conditions, is changeable and often unpredictable, but it is usually accepted as part of a particular climatic trait in whatever area you happen to live in.

While weather is the daily condition in a specific area, which may include rain, sunshine, snow, wind, or any number of other conditions, that may only last for a few minutes, or several weeks, climate is the average of all these conditions in various seasons over a period of several decades. When we think of the southern U.S., which has a Humid Subtropical or Tropical climate, we think of it as having hot summers, and relatively mild winters. On the other hand, the Humid Continental climates further north into the middle, eastern U.S. are known for warm summers and sometimes, extremely cold winters. Further north, in the upper Great Lakes, the winters are expected to be much more severe, and the summers much cooler.

Even in a particular climate, such as one that is normally moderate all season long, certain years can bring cold weather patterns. These may last for days or months, and in these regions, that produce agricultural  products that rely on warm temperatures, this temporary change in the weather pattern can be devastating. The actual climate hasn’t changed, since this is only a short term condition, however, if it continued for several decades, it would indicate a new permanent climatic characteristic.

In colder climates, where snow and extreme cold are expected, there may be periods where there are unusually warm winters, and very little snow. These are usually short term conditions as well.

Climatic conditions are what we normally expect year after year. If we live in a particular climate, we anticipate what the normal temperatures and conditions will be over the year. Weather, however, is the unpredictable change that needs to be monitored by the minute. Sudden changes, such as tornado formation, flash floods, blizzards, or other hazards, occur within minutes and although temporary, and short lived, can be deadly.

By and large, climate is the expected condition of a particular area from season to season, and weather provides us with all  those daily unexpected surprises.