The terms weather and climate are often used in the media or in general conversation, sometimes interchangeably, with little thought of the exact meanings of the words. Many people assume that they are simply two different words that describe the same thing. However, the terms weather and climate actually have separate definitions. Here is an explanation of each of these terms.
Time is the most significant factor that differentiates between the term weather and the term climate.
The term weather relates to the short term. Weather relates to the way that the atmosphere behaves in the recent, current or near future periods of time. That is, it identifies the current conditions of the day such as whether it is sunny or rainy, warm or cold. When we speak of the weather or the weather forecast, we are usually referring to the conditions that we are experiencing on a particular day or are expecting to experience over the following few weeks. Weather can change on an hourly, daily or weekly basis.
Climate refers more to the long term. This could be over a period of as much as several years. It relates to the behavior patterns of weather conditions in a particular area. Another way of describing climate is as the average weather pattern for a particular area over a particular period. When we hear about the climate and climatic changes, this usually refers to studies done over a long period about changes we are experiencing concerning issues such as gradual temperature increases or decreases, or the amount of rainfall that a country typically experiences during certain months or in a year. Measuring climate and climatic changes takes years of measurement, monitoring and research to identify and categorize. This in turn may help scientists to make predictions about future climatic changes.
Scientists study weather so that people will be aware of what conditions to expect and how this may affect their day-to-day lives. Simple things like knowing what to wear or deciding whether to walk to work or take the bus are both aspects of our lives that the information that we receive about the weather can affect. Similarly, scientists study climate so that people are aware of the changes that they can expect in the environment in which they live and the impact that this may have. These studies not only allow scientists to make predictions about what future changes may take place in particular areas across the globe, but also how these changes may affect the way that we live and what we can do to limit any negative effects our behavior has on the climate.