Weather is defined as the state of the atmosphere at a given time and place, with respect to variables such as temperature, moisture, wind velocity, and barometric pressure. Weather and climate describe the world outside the window - whether it’s hot or cold, humid or dry, sunny or cloudy. Weather is the short term conditions present in the moment that let people know what to wear today and whether or not to bring an umbrella. Climate describes the long term conditions that let people know what clothes to keep in their wardrobe all year long and whether they need to own snow boots, flip flops or both.
Both weather and climate are the result of the interaction of several Earth systems:
- the movement of moisture in the water cycle that evaporates ocean water into the air where it condenses into travelling clouds or storms that eventually cause rain or snow;
- the movement of heat that begins at the sun-soaked equator and moves warm air toward the north and south poles;
- the movement of the oceans that takes icy-cold water from the poles to the tropics, warming or cooling the air above the water.
These and many other factors, including greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, combine to form the high and low pressure systems you hear about on the weather report, and over time add up to the climate of the location you live in. To understand the complex interactions and patterns of weather and climate, scientists collect as much observational data as they can on precipitation, temperatures, humidity, and other atmospheric conditions. They then use that data and the relationships between the different pieces to create computer models of local, regional, or even global weather and climate.
Difference Between Weather and Climate
Weather reflects short-term conditions of the atmosphere while climate is the average daily weather for an extended period of time at a certain location.
In other words, climate is what you expect, weather is what you get. Weather is what you see outside on any particular day. So, for example, it may be 75° degrees and sunny or it could be 20° degrees with heavy snow. That’s the weather. Climate is the average of that weather. For example, you can expect snow in the Northeast in January or for it to be hot and humid in the Southeast in July. This is climate. The climate record also includes extreme values such as record high temperatures or record amounts of rainfall. If you’ve ever heard your local weather person say “today we hit a record high for this day,” he is talking about climate records.
So when we are talking about climate change, we are talking about changes in long-term averages of daily weather. In most places, weather can change from minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour, day-to-day, and season-to-season. Climate, however, is the average of weather over time and space.
Precipitation is a vital component of how water moves through Earth’s water cycle, connecting the ocean, land, and atmosphere. Knowing where it rains, how much it rains and the character of the falling rain, snow or hail allows scientists to better understand precipitation’s impact on streams, rivers, surface runoff and groundwater. Frequent and detailed measurements help scientists make models of and determine changes in Earth’s water cycle.
The water cycle describes how water evaporates from the surface of the earth, rises into the atmosphere, cools and condenses into rain or snow in clouds, and falls again to the surface as precipitation. The water falling on land collects in rivers and lakes, soil, and porous layers of rock, and much of it flows back into the oceans, where it will once more evaporate. The cycling of water in and out of the atmosphere is a significant aspect of the weather patterns on Earth.
Depending on their type, clouds can consist of dry air mixed with liquid water drops, ice particles, or both. Low, shallow clouds are mostly made of water droplets of various sizes. Thin, upper level clouds (cirrus) are made of tiny ice particles. Deep thunderstorm clouds which can reach up to 20 km in height contain both liquid and ice in the form of cloud and raindrops, cloud ice, snow, graupel and hail. It is important to understand that even a cloud that looks impenetrably dark is almost entirely made of dry air. Water vapor and precipitation each make up a maximum of just a couple of percent of the mass of a cloud, except in a few very intense storms.
In meteorology, precipitation (also known as one of the classes of hydrometeors, which are atmospheric water phenomena) is any product of the condensation of atmospheric water vapor that falls quickly out of a cloud. This is in contrast to cloud water, which is ice or liquid water that falls slowly enough that it can remain in the air for hours. The main forms of precipitation include drizzle, rain, sleet, snow, graupel and hail. It occurs when a local portion of the atmosphere becomes saturated with water vapour and the water condenses.
How do these precipitation particles form? First, tiny cloud droplets are born when the water vapor in the air is cooled and starts to condense around tiny "condensation nuclei" (particles so small they are invisible to the naked eye). The presence of these aerosols is crucial: without them, in absolutely clean air, condensation would not start until the relative humidity has reached several hundred percent (this suggests that the "saturation" level of 100% humidity is poorly defined; in fact, the atmosphere always contains more than enough nuclei of all sorts for condensation to start as soon as the dew point temperature is reached). The more particles there are in the atmosphere, the easier cloud droplets will be formed and the smaller they will be (since more particles will be competing for the same amount of water, so each one of them will attract less). This is why clouds over land have more droplets of smaller sizes than clouds over oceans where the air is generally much cleaner.
The process of ice formation similarly requires the presence of nuclei. However, there are much fewer particles which make suitable ice nuclei. This is why freezing often does not start until the temperature of the air reaches -15° C (if there are no ice nuclei at all, freezing will not occur before the temperature drops to -40° C). Hence, clouds with temperatures below 0° C can still consist of water droplets called "supercooled" water. These drops freeze immediately upon contact with any surface. When they fall to the ground as freezing rain, they can form a thin layer of sleet on roadways, an almost invisible and very dangerous hazard for drivers.
A thunderstorms is a localized storm often accompanied by heavy precipitation and frequent thunder and lightning. A thunderstorm is formed when a combination of moisture and warm air rise in the atmosphere and condense. While over land, thunderstorms are most likely to occur at the warmest, most humid part of the day, which is usually the afternoon or evening. Over the ocean they are most likely to occur in the early hours of the morning before dawn.
A hurricane is a type of storm called a tropical cyclone, which forms over tropical or subtropical waters. A tropical cyclone is a rotating low-pressure weather system that has organized thunderstorms but no fronts (a boundary separating two air masses of different densities). Tropical cyclones with maximum sustained surface winds of less than 39 miles per hour (mph) are called tropical depressions. Those with maximum sustained winds of 39 mph or higher are called tropical storms.
When a storm's maximum sustained winds reach 74 mph, it is called a hurricane. The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale is a 1 to 5 rating, or category, based on a hurricane's maximum sustained winds. The higher the category, the greater the hurricane's potential for property damage.
Hurricanes originate in the Atlantic basin, which includes the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico, the eastern North Pacific Ocean, and, less frequently, the central North Pacific Ocean. "Hurricane Season" begins on June 1 and ends on November 30, although hurricanes can, and have, occurred outside of this time frame. They occur, on average, 12 times a year in the Atlantic basin. A six-year rotating list of names, updated and maintained by the World Meteorological Organization, is used to identify these storms.
A waterspout is a whirling column of air and water mist. Waterspouts fall into two categories: fair weather waterspouts and tornadic waterspouts.
Tornadic waterspouts are tornadoes that form over water, or move from land to water. They have the same characteristics as a land tornado. They are associated with severe thunderstorms, and are often accompanied by high winds and seas, large hail, and frequent dangerous lightning.
Fair weather waterspouts usually form along the dark flat base of a line of developing cumulus clouds. This type of waterspout is generally not associated with thunderstorms. While tornadic waterspouts develop downward in a thunderstorm, a fair weather waterspout develops on the surface of the water and works its way upward. By the time the funnel is visible, a fair weather waterspout is near maturity. Fair weather waterspouts form in light wind conditions so they normally move very little.
If a waterspout moves onshore, the National Weather Service issues a tornado warning, as some of them can cause significant damage and injuries to people. Typically, fair weather waterspouts dissipate rapidly when they make landfall, and rarely penetrate far inland.
El Niño and La Niña
El Niño and La Niña are complex weather patterns resulting from variations in ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific. El Niño and La Niña are opposite phases of what is known as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle. The ENSO cycle is a scientific term that describes the fluctuations in temperature between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific (approximately between the International Date Line and 120 degrees West).
La Niña is sometimes referred to as the cold phase of ENSO and El Niño as the warm phase of ENSO. These deviations from normal surface temperatures can have large-scale impacts not only on ocean processes, but also on global weather and climate. El Niño and La Niña episodes typically last nine to 12 months, but some prolonged events may last for years. While their frequency can be quite irregular, El Niño and La Niña events occur on average every two to seven years. Typically, El Niño occurs more frequently than La Niña.
El Niño means The Little Boy, or Christ Child in Spanish. El Niño was originally recognized by fishermen off the coast of South America in the 1600s, with the appearance of unusually warm water in the Pacific Ocean. The name was chosen based on the time of year (around December) during which these warm waters events tended to occur.
The term El Niño refers to the large-scale ocean-atmosphere climate interaction linked to a periodic warming in sea surface temperatures across the central and east-central Equatorial Pacific.
Typical El Niño effects are likely to develop over North America during the upcoming winter season. Those include warmer-than-average temperatures over western and central Canada, and over the western and northern United States. Wetter-than-average conditions are likely over portions of the U.S. Gulf Coast and Florida, while drier-than-average conditions can be expected in the Ohio Valley and the Pacific Northwest. The presence of El Niño can significantly influence weather patterns, ocean conditions, and marine fisheries across large portions of the globe for an extended period of time.
La Niña means The Little Girl in Spanish. La Niña is also sometimes called El Viejo, anti-El Niño, or simply "a cold event".
La Niña episodes represent periods of below-average sea surface temperatures across the east-central Equatorial Pacific. Global climate La Niña impacts tend to be opposite those of El Niño impacts. In the tropics, ocean temperature variations in La Niña also tend to be opposite those of El Niño.
During a La Niña year, winter temperatures are warmer than normal in the Southeast and cooler than normal in the Northwest.
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