Weather vs. climate?

Aren’t weather and climate the same?

The weather is what you experience each and every day. Is it hot or cold? Rainy, snowy, or sunny? Just how windy is it? It’s what makes you think about turning on the heat or grabbing a sun hat. Climate is the kind of weather you expect, but also why it’s expected. When is the first snowfall and how much does that vary from year to year? Do summer temperatures normally hit 100°F and on how many days? What kinds of severe weather will you get? Tornadoes or dust storms?

Want to know more? Check out What’s the Difference Between Weather and Climate?

This example from the McCarran Airport in Las Vegas might help.

Average daily high and low temperatures and precipitation at McCarran Apt. in Las Vegas and daily temperature and precipitation in 2019
Data from http://scacis.rcc-acis.org/. Averages are calculated for 1981-2010.

The heavy red line shows the 1981-2010 average daily high temperature, also known as the normal. From this view of the climate, we can see that, on average, the warmest temperatures of the year happen in late July or early August, and the oldest temperatures right about New Year. The fine orange line show the actual temperatures in 2019. This trace of weather is a lot more variable. In 2019, it stayed hot, over 100°F, until late August. The coldest temperatures of 2019 didn’t arrive until just after Valentine’s Day, along with quite a bit of rain. Relatively cold weather showed up again around Memorial Day and then for Halloween.

Another aspect of climate is that some places are warmer, wetter, cooler or drier than others.

The two maps below show the normal or 30-year average annual temperature and precipitation. They show that the southern and lower elevation parts of the state are warmer and drier, while mountains and the northern parts of the state are cooler and wetter. We think of Nevada as dry. It is, in fact, the driest state in the U.S. — according to NOAA’s Climate at a Glance website, Nevada received, on average, just over 10 inches of rain a year during the 20th century. But some of the mountains in northeast Nevada receive over 40 inches of rain in an average year.

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Map of the 1981 - 2010 annual average temperature across Nevada. It shows the highest temperatures (> 70F) at low elevations in the Las Vegas area and the coolest temperatures (< 40F) over high elevations in the northeastern corner of the state and over some of the highest mountains in Nye county. It also shows temperatures generally decreasing from south to north, with some areas of relatively warm temperatures (50 - 55) east and north of Reno, where elevations are relatively low.

1981 – 2010 Normals, PRISM Climate Group, Oregon State University, http://prism.oregonstate.edu. Downloaded 9/16, 2019
Map of the 1981 - 2010 annual average precipitation across Nevada. It shows the lowest amounts of precipitation (< 5" per year) at low elevations near and just east of Las Vegas area and the highest precipitation amounts (> 40" per year) over high elevations in the northeastern corner of the state and in the area around Lake Tahoe. Otherwise, low elevation areas, typically receove 5 - 15" of precipitation per year, and mountains from 15 to 30" per year.
1981 – 2010 Normals, PRISM Climate Group, Oregon State University, http://prism.oregonstate.edu. Downloaded 9/16, 2019