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. In this topic guide, students analyze data to describe typical weather and climate patterns for different regions and seasons.

Concepts to teach:

Goals:

  1. Climate is an area’s long term weather patterns; generally the record is at least 30 years.
  2. Temperature and other records can vary from year to year, place to place, and season to season.
  3. Climate records show patterns in this variability.

Standards: NGSS Performance Expectations

  • 3-ESS2-1. Represent data in tables and graphical displays to describe typical weather conditions expected during a particular season.
  • 3-ESS2-2. Obtain and combine information to describe climates in different regions of the world.

Specific Objectives:
Students will be able to:

  1. Describe the difference between weather and climate.
  2. Calculate average minimum and maximum temperatures in a climate record.
  3. Use online climate records to observe seasonal and regional climate differences.

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.
    • Use the tables and graphs in slides #9-12 to guide students through identifying extreme annual events, determining temperature ranges over a climate record, and calculating average minimum and maximum temperatures.
    • The presentation ends with a Climate? or Weather? quiz.
    • Access NCDC DataTools to find out the minimum, maximum and average temperatures for other areas in the U.S. Compare the Minneapolis July 4th min/max temperature data to datasets from other regions. For a given area, compare July min/max data to data from other months of the year.
  • Activity: Oregon Climate Data—Explore climate data for various cities throughout Oregon to see how temperature and precipitation vary throughout the year and in different locations. Students will observe that coastal areas experience a smaller temperature range and greater precipitation than areas in Oregon that lie east of the Cascade Range.
    • Reading: Climate of Oregon—Background information from the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute that describes how the Pacfic Ocean and Cascade Range 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.

Assessment:

  • Take the quiz at the end of the Comparing Climate and Weather Power Point
  • How do long term datasets help us better understand climate? How would Charlie’s understanding of climate been different if he had only collected temperature data in 1972? What if he only collected data in 1982?
  • How does the average climate in Minneapolis compare to another area in the U.S. in July?
  • How does distance from the ocean affect climate in various locations in Oregon? Why?