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

  • MS-ESS2-6. Develop and use a model to describe how unequal heating and rotation of the Earth cause patterns of atmospheric and oceanic circulation that determine regional climates.

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.
    • 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.
  • 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 has a quiz at the end
  • Compare and contrast the climate and weather patterns of 2 or more cities. What factors influence climate and weather in these cities?
  • Students create a diagram or map to describe factors influencing regional climate patterns.