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Weather versus Climate

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Weather versus Climate

What's the weather like?

If someone across country asks you what the weather is like today, you need to consider several factors. Air temperature, humidity, wind speed, the amount and types of clouds, and precipitation are all part of a thorough weather report.

What is Weather?

All weather takes place in the atmosphere, virtually all of it in the lower atmosphere. Weather describes what the atmosphere is like at a specific time and place. A location’s weather depends on:

  • air temperature
  • air pressure
  • fog
  • humidity
  • cloud cover
  • precipitation
  • wind speed and direction

All of these characteristics are directly related to the amount of energy that is in the system and where that energy is. The ultimate source of this energy is the Sun.

Weather is the change we experience from day to day. Weather can change rapidly.

What is Climate?

Although almost anything can happen with the weather, climate is more predictable. The weather on a particular winter day in San Diego may be colder than on the same day in Lake Tahoe, but, on average, Tahoe’s winter climate is significantly colder than San Diego’s ( Figure below ).

A snowboarder at Lake Tahoe

Winter weather at Lake Tahoe doesn't much resemble winter weather in San Diego even though they're both in California.

Climate is the long-term average of weather in a particular spot. Good climate is why we choose to vacation in Hawaii in February, even though the weather is not guaranteed to be good! A location’s climate can be described by its air temperature, humidity, wind speed and direction, and the type, quantity, and frequency of precipitation.

The climate for a particular place is steady, and changes only very slowly. Climate is determined by many factors, including the angle of the Sun, the likelihood of cloud cover, and the air pressure. All of these factors are related to the amount of energy that is found in that location over time.

The climate of a region depends on its position relative to many things. These factors are described in the next sections.


  • A region's weather depends on its air temperature, air pressure, humidity, precipitation, wind speed and direction, and other factors.
  • Climate is the long-term average of weather.
  • Weather can change in minutes, but climate changes very slowly.

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Use this resource to answer the questions that follow.


  1. What is weather?
  2. What is climate? What shapes climate?
  3. What are the things that can change that will change climate?
  4. What changes climate over time?
  5. Where does the extra energy that is trapped by excess carbon dioxide go?


  1. When you're in a cold place in December and you're planning a vacation for February, are you interested in a location's weather or climate? If it's a summer day and you want to take a picnic are you concerned with weather or climate?
  2. What factors account for a location's weather?
  3. If climate is the long-term average of weather, how can climate change?




The temporary, day-to-day conditions of the atmosphere in a region.

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