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Climate vs. Weather: What's The Difference?

People often use the terms climate and weather incorrectly, so what do they actually mean? Meteorologist Michael Behrens explains!

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Climate and weather. Two concepts in the same vein, but with meanings that differ in important ways.

So what are the differences? Let's start first by describing the weather!

You can think of weather as the now and near-term conditions. Weather is what is happening at the moment or what is expected to happen within a few days. Weather is your day to day conditions that you end up experiencing. 

Climate, on the other hand, is the long term average calculated with years of weather data. Things like average temperatures, rainfall, snowfall, and other conditions, usually averaged over at least a 30 year period, make up a set of data called our average conditions. These conditions describe our climate and what kind of weather can generally be expected for a given time of year. 

So why is this distinction important? It's because having a proper understanding of climate vs. weather allows us to have a meaningful discussion and understanding about how our climate is or is not changing. 

What this means is that one very hot, very cold, very rainy, or stretch of any of the above days in a row, does not equate to a sign of climate change. Any one single event, in fact, is not a sign of climate changing outside the normal. 

However, over time, a pattern of continual very hot, very cold, very rainy, or etc. days repeating each year for a number of years allows us determine how our climate is changing. 

You can see an example of this in the image below. 

Credit: Michael Behrens/Climate Central
Longest streak of consecutive days of 85+ degree heat in Grand Rapids each year.

Since the 1970s Grand Rapids has seen a slight increase in the length of consecutive 85+ degree day stretches expected each year. While an individual year's weather, the high and low peaks of the graph, do not immediately mark a change in climate, the pattern that develops overtime does indeed reveal our climate is warming in West Michigan. 

At the end of the day, understanding what is climate and what is weather is how we can engage in a productive conversation about the climate we all have to live in. One cold spell, or one warm winter, does not prove or negate the overall pattern of climate and climate change for a region. It's the pattern over time that matters most of all! 

-- Meteorologist Michael Behrens

Follow me on social media! Facebook Meteorologist Michael Behrens, Twitter @MikeBehrensWX, and Instagram @MikeBehrensWX

Email me at: MBehrens@13OnYourSide.com

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