Weather and Climate

Education Modules > Module 3 > High School > Weather and Climate > Science Concepts

Science Concepts—Climate vs Weather

Summary: Sometimes people who are trying to understand climate change have asked the question, "How could the planet be warming given that it is so cold outside today?" Weather and climate are not the same thing. Weather is what's happening outside your window; atmospheric conditions that you can see, feel or measure. In contrast, climate is an area's long-term weather patterns, and understanding climate requires looking at data taken over a longer period of time. This topic guide contains activities and resources to help students better understand the the difference between weather and climate, and recognize that it takes time to compile a climate record. They then explore factors that influence local climate.

Concepts to teach:


  1. Climate is an area's long term weather patterns; generally the record is at least 30 years.
  2. Single weather events represent only part of a climate record and don't tell us if the climate is changing.
  3. Climate is affected by a variety of factors, including latitude, elevation, proximity to bodies of water and mountain ranges, etc.

Standards: NGSS Performance Expectations

  • HS-ESS3-5. Analyze geoscience data and the results from global climate models to make an evidence-based forecast of the current rate of global or regional climate change and associated future impacts to Earth systems.

Specific Objectives:
Students will be able to:

  1. Use climate data to determine how the temperature of the Earth has changed during a recent ~50 year period.
  2. Explore, analyze and interpret climate patterns of several different cities, and
  3. Analyze differences between weather and climate patterns.

Activity Links and Resources:

  • Comparing Climate and Weather—This Power Point was created by educator LuAnn Dahlman from the NOAA Climate Program Office. It begins with a story of a personal observation and leads to interpretation of long term datasets. The presentation ends with a Climate? or Weather? quiz.
  • Activity: Investigating Weather and Climate with Google Earth from the Environmental Initiative at Lehigh University (Gr. 8) - This lesson plan includes a power point, kmz files, student guides, worksheets and implementation suggestions. Students use Google Earth to explore some factors that affect weather. They will use Google Earth to determine how latitude, elevation, proximity to bodies of water, and mountain ranges affect a location’s climate. They will also explore, analyze, and interpret weather patterns in 7 different U.S. cities.
  • Online activity: What factors control your local climate?—This online activity from McDougal-Littel's textbook Exploring Earthinvites students to compare climate graphs from different cities and asks them to describe factors that influence climate.
  • Reading: Weather and Climate—EPA Climate Change Indicators in the US. Explore the headings to see how long term temperature and precipitation data are used to indicate climate change.
  • Video: Weather vs. Climate—The second video of the CoCoRaHS Educational Series in collaboration with NOAA and NSF. Learn about the differences in this fun video.


  • Comparing Climate and Weather Power Point: Climate? or Weather? quiz at the end
  • Describe the difference between weather and climate.
  • Compare and contrast the climate and weather patterns of 2 or more cities. What factors influence climate and weather in these cities?