Cottage Q&A: The difference between climate and weather

Storm clouds with lightning strike jctabb/Shutterstock

What is the difference between “climate” and “weather”?
—Kirby Avanti, via email

“Weather” covers the events that happen each day in a particular area; “climate” refers to the statistics of weather over long stretches of time. “Weather is what you see when you look out the window,” says David Phillips, the senior climatologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada. “But you can’t see climate. Climate is something that you plot on a graph. You take the day-to-day stuff and average the hell out of it.” Knowing the weather is useful to decide what to wear, or to plan your day. But it only gives you a snapshot of information. The weather we experience in one day, or one week, or even over one winter or spring can be misleading. Climate trends, on the other hand, are based on many years of data. “That means that sometimes there’s this apparent contradiction,” says Phillips. “We say ‘Our climate is warming,’ but meanwhile, the Prairies just had its coldest February in 83 years.”

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