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10.2.1: Climate vs. Weather

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    Section Hook

    The iconic Grand Canal of Venice, Italy, doesn’t need high quality instruments to note effects of climate change. The Grand Canal was built in a way that the water levels are directly correlated with the sea level. As such, the steps leading into the canal have become rulers for sea level changes over the hundreds of years of their existence. The last step leading into the canal directly reflected the sea level at the time of creation and currently, the water level is 3 feet above this. In the last quarter century, sea levels have been rising much faster than previously measured. This puts Venice in a difficult position moving into a future where scientists predict the sea level to continue to rise, estimating that the city will be underwater by 2100, along with many other coastal cities. Unfortunately, rising seas are only one of the many predicted outcomes of global climate change.

    Flooding in Venice

    Figure \(\PageIndex{a}\): Flooding in Venice, Italy. Image by in Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY2.0).

    Climate change refers to any significant change in the measures of climate lasting for an extended period of time. In other words, climate change includes major changes in temperature, precipitation, or wind patterns, among other effects, that occur over several decades or longer. Global warming refers to the recent and ongoing rise in global average temperature near Earth’s surface. It is caused mostly by increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Global warming is causing climate patterns to change. However, global warming itself represents only one aspect of climate change.

    A common misconception about global climate change is that a specific weather event occurring in a particular region (for example, a very cool week in June in central Indiana) is evidence of global climate change. However, a cold week in June is a weather-related event and not a climate-related one. These misconceptions often arise because of confusion over the terms climate and weather.

    Climate refers to the long-term, predictable atmospheric conditions of a specific area. The climate of a biome is characterized by having consistent temperature and annual rainfall ranges. Climate does not address the amount of rain that fell on one particular day in a biome or the colder-than-average temperatures that occurred on one day. In contrast, weather refers to the conditions of the atmosphere during a short period of time. Weather forecasts are usually made for 48-hour cycles. Long-range weather forecasts are available but can be unreliable.

    To better understand the difference between climate and weather, imagine that you are planning an outdoor event in northern Wisconsin. You would be thinking about climate when you plan the event in the summer rather than the winter because you have long-term knowledge that any given Saturday in the months of May to August would be a better choice for an outdoor event in Wisconsin than any given Saturday in January. However, you cannot determine the specific day that the event should be held on because it is difficult to accurately predict the weather on a specific day. Climate can be considered “average” weather.


    Modified by Melissa Ha and Rachel Schleiger from the following sources:

    This page titled 10.2.1: Climate vs. Weather is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Melissa Ha and Rachel Schleiger (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative) .