Weather vs. Climate

Jet Stream: Clouds following the jet stream in a satellite image from NASA.Jet Stream: Clouds following the jet stream in a satellite image from NASA.

The difference between weather and climate is a matter of time. As one of the subprinciples (4B) of “Climate Literacy” states: “Weather is the minute-by-minute variable conditions of the atmosphere on a local scale. Climate is a conceptual description of an area’s average weather conditions and the extent to which those conditions vary over long time intervals.”

The science that studies weather is meteorology; the science that studies climate is climatology. Both rely on observations, models and the underpinning of theories, but the processes involved with weather are substantially different from those that drive climate.

Emphasizing how weather and climate are related yet different in many aspects is vital for effective climate education.

“NASA’s What's the Difference Between Weather and Climate?” website provides background information on how weather and climate are related but have different dynamics that are understood and modeled differently.

Continue to the next section to find out how the Sun is the primary source of energy for Earth’s climate system.

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