If you’ve taken a vacation, you probably considered the climate of your destination while making your plans. A warm tropical island … or a snowy ski resort?

But despite what you expected, you probably checked the local weather forecast when deciding what to pack. Sunscreen or rain gear? T-shirts or a sweater?

Weather refers to the current conditions of the atmosphere in a given place, such as the current temperature, humidity, and precipitation outside your window right now. Climate, however, is the average of these weather conditions over long periods of time.

Another way to think about it is that climate is what we expect, but weather is what we get. We expect a tropical island to be warm and sunny — that’s climate. But while visiting, we may get a sudden thunderstorm — that’s weather. Weather changes over hours, days, or weeks. Climate, however, changes more slowly, over decades.

Thus, we can accurately predict that the island will still have a tropical climate ten years from now. But we cannot predict what the daily weather will be that far in advance. So remember: use climate to pick your vacation destination. But check the weather forecast before you pack your bags.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.

More Resources
NASA — What’s the Difference Between Weather and Climate?
Climate and Weather, National Geographic (Video).
What Is the Difference Between Weather and Climate?, National Center for Atmospheric Research and the UCAR Office of Programs.

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Bud Ward

Bud Ward was editor of Yale Climate Connections from 2007-2022. He started his environmental journalism career in 1974. He later served as assistant director of the U.S. Congress's National Commission...