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What is climate?

Definition of climate and how it differs from weather
© University of Twente
Earlier on, you reviewed the definition of weather and how weather patterns can be expressed. This article introduces the definition of climate and makes the distinction between climate and weather.

To understand what type of weather prevails in a specific area, scientists take the long-term average (over 30 years or more) of weather patterns in this area, to describe its climate. In this respect, climate can be defined as the long-term weather patterns of a region. Simply put, the weather varies from day to day and from place to place. It affects our everyday routine no matter what we do and where we live. Climate, on the other hand, represents the prevailing weather conditions in a location and a particular season. Hence, distinguishing between weather and climate is a matter of time.

The forecast of some weather events can be more reliable than others. Synoptic-scale cyclones, on a horizontal length scale of 1000 km, are predictable over several days to a week in advance. The exact trajectory of mesoscale convective systems, such as storms, however, are only predictable within several hours. Climate change happens at a much slower pace than weather changes.

Precipitation, temperature, wind speed and direction, incident solar radiation, cloudiness, and other variables determine the weather conditions (Leroux, 2006). In this respect, the climate is also characterised by the long-term average of these variables. Scientists refer to these variables as essential climate variables (ECVs).

Table 1: Climate versus weather

Weather Climate
Over a short period of minutes Typically 30 years
Weather is what you get Climate is what you expect
Always include time and the location Average weather over many years in a specific location
Affected by the weather systems Affected by latitude, elevation, nearby water, etc.
e.g. sunny or windy weather e.g. continental or arid climate

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© University of Twente
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