What's the Difference Between Weather and Climate?

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iStock

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.

Lake Michigan Has Frozen Over, and It's an Incredible Sight

Scott Olson, Getty Images
Scott Olson, Getty Images

A polar vortex has brought deadly temperatures to the Midwest this week, and the weather is having a dramatic effect on one of the region's most famous features. As the Detroit Free Press reports, parts of Lake Michigan have frozen over, and the ice coverage continues to grow.

The Lake Michigan ice extent has increased rapidly throughout January, starting around 1 percent on the first of the month and expanding to close to 40 percent by the end of the month. Yesterday was the coldest January 30 in Chicago history, with temperatures at O'Hare Airport dropping to -23°F. Even though it's frozen, steam can be seen rising off Lake Michigan—something that happens when the air above the lake is significantly colder than the surface. You can watch a stream of this happening from a live cam below.

Lake Michigan's ice coverage is impressive, as these pictures show, but it's still far from breaking a record. Though Lake Michigan has never frozen over completely, it came close during the winter of 1993 to 1994 when ice reached 95 percent coverage.

Midwestern states like Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, and Indiana aren't the only places that have been hit hard by the cold this winter. At the United States/Canada border, Niagara Falls froze to a stop in some spots, a phenomenon that also produced some stunning photographs.


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[h/t Detroit Free Press]

Why You Need to Keep Your Car's Gas Tank Full in Cold Weather

iStock.com/Chalabala
iStock.com/Chalabala

Schools, trains, and the U.S. Postal Service have shut down this week as a polar vortex brings negative double-digit temperatures to the Midwest. Even if residents won't be doing much traveling as long as the dangerous weather persists, they'd benefit from keeping a full tank of gas in their cars: According to the Detroit Free Press, it's an easy way to prevent fuel lines from freezing.

One common reason cars struggle to start in cold weather is blocked-up fuel lines. These tubes are thin, and if there's any moisture in them when temperatures drop to extreme levels, they can freeze, causing blockages that prevent fuel from flowing.

Gasoline, on the other hand, doesn't freeze as easily. It maintains its liquid state in subzero temperatures, like those currently hitting parts of the U.S., so when a gas tank is full, those fuel lines are better equipped to handle to the cold.

If you filled up your tank before the recent cold snap and your car still won't start, it may have something to do with your antifreeze levels. Your car's radiator needs water to work properly, and antifreeze is what keeps the water liquid when temperatures dip below 32°F.

Of course, if temperatures have already dropped to dangerous levels in your area, it's not worth it to drive to the gas station to refuel or run out to stock up on antifreeze. Instead, keep these car maintenance tips in mind for the next time an arctic blast rolls in to town. And when it is safe enough to drive again, resist heating up your engine in the driveway: Letting your car idle in the cold can actually shorten the engine's lifespan.

[h/t Detroit Free Press]

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