What's the Difference Between Weather and Climate?

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What do we talk about when we talk about climate? Contrary to what some science coverage would have you believe, it isn't the same thing as the weather. Though the terms are often (and mistakenly) used interchangeably, the difference between weather and climate boils down to time.

One of the easiest ways to describe the difference between weather and climate is to think of the weather as your mood on a certain day, while the climate is your overall personality. You can be in a foul mood today, a great mood tomorrow, and feel blah the day after that, but if you’re chipper and friendly more often than not, then you generally have an agreeable personality, despite the occasional off-day. The relationship between weather and climate works in much the same way.

The weather is what we experience on a short-term basis. Morning fog, afternoon thunderstorms, and a hurricane looming offshore are all examples of weather since they’re taking place in the present. We have lots of specialized weather models that are really good at predicting specific weather events for a period of around seven days into the future. We’re able to predict factors like exact temperatures, rainfall totals, and wind speeds with great accuracy over that short period of time.

Climate, on the other hand, is the overall trend of weather patterns over a long period of time. The temperature can vary wildly from day to day, but if your city usually experiences more warm days than cold days, you live in a warm climate. Just because you live in a warm climate doesn’t mean it’s always going to be warm, of course, but it’s likely going to be warm more often than not.

Scientists also have models that can predict climatic trends over months and even years, but they can’t give us the same specific, granular data points that weather models can suss out. A climate model can’t tell you the exact high temperature three months from today, but we do have the ability to tell you in June if temperatures in August across a certain region are likely to be warmer or cooler than average.

Scientists can use what we know about climate change in the past, the world today, and what evidence tells us the world will look like in the future to give us an idea of how climate trends will change with time. This is how scientists are fairly certain that a warming climate is causing more extreme weather conditions like hotter heat waves and more intense bouts of heavy rain.

That said, climate change isn't happening all at once, but slowly, and will continue to do so over the coming decades. There have always been unpleasant weather events, like heat waves and heavy rains, and for now, there will continue to be. But scientists say we should expect that these weather events will only get more extreme over time.

What is a Polar Vortex?

Edward Stojakovic, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Edward Stojakovic, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

If you’ve turned on the news or stepped outside lately, you're familiar with the record-breaking cold that is blanketing a lot of North America. According to The Washington Post, a mass of bone-chilling air over Canada—a polar vortex—split into three parts at the beginning of 2019, and one is making its way to the eastern U.S. Polar vortexes can push frigid air straight from the arctic tundra into more temperate regions. But just what is this weather phenomenon?

How does a polar vortex form?

Polar vortexes are basically arctic hurricanes or cyclones. NASA defines them as “a whirling and persistent large area of low pressure, found typically over both North and South poles.” A winter phenomenon, vortexes develop as the sun sets over the pole and temperatures cool, and occur in the middle and upper troposphere and the stratosphere (roughly, between six and 31 miles above the Earth’s surface).

Where will a polar vortex hit?

In the Northern Hemisphere, the vortexes move in a counterclockwise direction. Typically, they dip down over Canada, but according to NBC News, polar vortexes can move into the contiguous U.S. due to warm weather over Greenland or Alaska—which forces denser cold air south—or other weather patterns.

Polar vortexes aren't rare—in fact, arctic winds do sometimes dip down into the eastern U.S.—but sometimes the sheer size of the area affected is much greater than normal.

How cold is a polar vortex?

So cold that frozen sharks have been known to wash up on Cape Cod beaches. So cold that animal keepers at the Calgary Zoo in Alberta, Canada once decided to bring its group of king penguins indoors for warmth (the species lives on islands north of Antarctica and the birds aren't used to extreme cold.) Even parts of Alabama and other regions in the Deep South have seen single-digit temperatures and wind chills below zero.

But thankfully, this type of arctic freeze doesn't stick around forever: Temperatures will gradually warm up.

A Simple Trick for Defrosting Your Windshield in Less Than 60 Seconds

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iStock

As beautiful as a winter snowfall can be, the white stuff is certainly not without its irritations—especially if you have to get into your car and go somewhere. As if shoveling a path to the driver’s door wasn’t enough, then you’ve got a frozen windshield with which to contend. Everyone has his or her own tricks for warming up a car in record time—including appropriately-named meteorologist Ken Weathers, who works at WATE in Knoxville, Tennessee.

A while back, Weathers shared a homemade trick for defrosting your windshield in less than 60 seconds: spray the glass with a simple solution of one part water and two parts rubbing alcohol. “The reason why this works,” according to Weathers, “is [that] rubbing alcohol has a freezing point of 128 degrees below freezing.”

Watch the spray in action below.

[h/t: Travel + Leisure]

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