Scientists Say: Climate | Science News for Students

Scientists Say: Climate

Climate and weather are not the same, but they are closely related
Sep 3, 2018 — 6:30 am EST

A single hot day won’t make a glacier melt. That’s just the weather. Long-term climate changes that warm the area over years, though, can make glaciers melt more quickly.


Climate (noun, “CLEYE-mate”)

Climate is the whole of the weather conditions that exist in one area over a long period of time, from years to decades. This is different from weather. Weather is the state of the atmosphere over a short period of time, from hours to days. If it’s rainy or dry, hot or cold at any one moment, that’s the weather. If a particular area is dry over much of the year, or generally very cold, that is its climate. Two places can have the same weather on any individual day but very different climates. For instance, it might be 24 degrees Celsius (75 degrees Fahrenheit) and sunny on a summer day in Chicago, Ill., and in Fairbanks, Alaska. But the overall climate in Chicago is warmer than in Fairbanks.

One way to think about this is that climate is what you expect, and weather is what you get. Another way is that climate is what tells you that you will probably be able to go skiing in Colorado this winter. But weather is what tells you to bring an umbrella on your way to school tomorrow.

In a sentence

People have begun to transform the weather in an unintentional way — through activities that have been altering Earth’s climate.

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Power Words

(more about Power Words)

atmosphere     The envelope of gases surrounding Earth or another planet.

climate     The weather conditions that typically exist in one area, in general, or over a long period.

climate change     Long-term, significant change in the climate of Earth. It can happen naturally or in response to human activities, including the burning of fossil fuels and clearing of forests.

hurricane     A tropical cyclone that occurs in the Atlantic Ocean and has winds of 119 kilometers (74 miles) per hour or greater. When such a storm occurs in the Pacific Ocean, people refer to it as a typhoon.

organism     Any living thing, from elephants and plants to bacteria and other types of single-celled life.

weather     Conditions in the atmosphere at a localized place and a particular time. It is usually described in terms of particular features, such as air pressure, humidity, moisture, any precipitation (rain, snow or ice), temperature and wind speed. Weather constitutes the actual conditions that occur at any time and place. It’s different from climate, which is a description of the conditions that tend to occur in some general region during a particular month or season.