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Weather is what happens outside on any one day. Climate is the long-term average of the weather over a period of at least 20 to 30 years.

Have you ever heard someone say, “Wow, it is so cold outside, how can folks be talking about global warming?”

Based on this statement, we can tell that the person is confusing weather and climate. For starters, what happens outside on any one day is weather. Weather is the state of the atmosphere at a place and time. With weather we experience variations from day to day and place to place. Climate is the long-term average of the weather over a period of at least 20 to 30 years, derived from accumulating GHGs in our atmosphere. Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get.

Famously, in February 2015, Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe brought a snowball to the Senate floor. This was supposed to be evidence that global warming was not occurring. How could the planet be warming when it was cold enough outside to create a snowball? This is just one example of people confusing weather and climate. Note that this incident was in February, the middle of winter for the eastern part of the United States. A snowball in winter should not be considered an abnormal event, but rather it should be something to be expected at that time and place.

Some of the results of a warming world can lead to weather outcomes that seem odd and counterintuitive. This can create confusion for someone that is only looking at the weather event and does not consider the climate issues that go along with it. For instance, a warming world can lead to bigger snowstorms. How can this be? Shouldn’t we have less snow if the world is warming? What also needs to be considered is that warmer air holds more water vapor. With this in mind, let’s consider a winter storm approaching Maryland. If our atmosphere is currently holding more water vapor than normal, then an approaching storm will have more potential for a bigger snowfall than we would see without the warmer air and greater amount of water vapor.

One of the ways that can help us separate weather and climate is looking at the frequency of setting new, daily temperature records. This can be new records for daily high temperatures, low temperatures or highs for minimum temperature. The third category is particularly interesting. We are increasingly seeing days when the low temperature for a day does not get as low as normal. This is particularly challenging in summer, when people and ecosystems don’t get as much nighttime relief from extreme heat. Any individual new daily record is an example of weather. However, we are seeing more monthly and all-time temperature records, and this indicates that there is a change in the climate.

Another example of a pattern that indicates climate change is from the daily temperature highs and lows. Over time we are seeing more new high temperature records than new low temperature records. If the climate were stable, we should expect a roughly equal number of high and low temperature records. However, between 2000 and 2010, the last full decade with data, the ratio of new highs to new lows averaged 2-to-1. Another example of the changing climate is that in the 1960s, Frederick averaged 20 days above 90 degrees contrasted with 49 days above 90 degrees in 2019. This shows us that the climate is warming.

It can be easy to focus on individual weather events and not see the big picture. What we wear on any one day does not represent our entire wardrobe. The performance of our retirement savings on any one day does not represent how our savings will grow over decades. Just like these events, we need to be careful not to focus too much on any one weather day. We need to consider the climate impacts that are and will continue to occur over decades.

As you venture outside in summer or winter, think about trends over weeks to months and contrast that with previous years. Do you recall so many blistering days in previous summers? Or, has it been warmer longer into the fall and even into the winter than in the past? Are your backyard plants blooming earlier than normal? That’s the Frederick climate we now experience and think how much different it could be in the future.

(9) comments

matts853

All perfectly reasonable cyclic events that are purely coincidental with the pollution rife dawn of humankind. It’s not like weather hasn’t changed in oh, what...4 billion years. We’ve been in snowball fights since before we stood upright and discovered how to burn up all the carbon left by the dinosaurs. Burn baby burn!

MD1756

How about we stop encouraging population growth? Start by stopping the tax subsidies to people with children.

phydeaux994

Be fruitful and multiply. I don’t think anybody has reversed that edict yet MD. You need to address your appeal to a Higher Authority. You might want to start with some in the Religious Community. Have you tried that?? And what Politician would propose stopping tax subsidies to the Parents Lobby??

MD1756

That is a big problem phydeaux. Jamie Raskin actually called me about a letter I had written because my position seemed to agree a lot with one of his daughter's position. He understood my position about the growing population and climate change (and other problems caused by an increasing human population) and the economic inequity of the tax policy given parents a break on their income taxes simply because they chose to have children. He said I was ahead of my time and that politically, however, the general public (parents) were not there yet. I think the best we can hope for right now is to try to continue to educate people on the impacts their choice are having on the planet and other species. I'll paraphrase a say by changing it to "It takes a village to help save the planet and other species. Learn self control and embrace population control for the good of all."

Riptide262

This was an interesting article but it still plays games with the numbers. ..."Another example of the changing climate is that in the 1960s, Frederick averaged 20 days above 90 degrees contrasted with 49 days above 90 degrees in 2019. This shows us that the climate is warming." Comparing the number of 90 days over a 10 year period from 1960-1970 is not directly comparable comparing the number of days in 2019. They should have considered 2010-2020 to compare the same time period instead of cherry picking 2019. To use the authors analogy, that is like comparing your average retirement portfolio return over the best year in a 10 year period vs. the average return over a 10 the entire 10 year period.

Climate change is real and the unfiltered data can stand on its own. I would like to see identical data sets compared. The 60s vs. 2019 data is a false equivalence and erodes the credibility of a very good article on climate vs. weather.

TomWheatley

Yes, it was colder back in the day. You also had a lot less asphalt, roof tops, cars, people, industry all adding to the local temperatures. DC is always warmer than the MD countryside. A lot of that is hot air coming from Capitol Hill, but most of it is the sheer mass of people and their heat generating sources.

How about pick a place in the US without significant population growth between 1960 and 2019?

phydeaux994

Like the Republican Senator who brought a snowball into the Chamber to prove Global Warming is a Hoax.🤣😂

NewMarketParent

@phydeaux994

We used to try to vote people smarter than average into positions of leadership. We now vote in people average or worse. We are getting the government we deserve.

phydeaux994

Amen NMP. All the ethical people left in Government are quitting in disgust.

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