15 Climate vs. Weather

Weather vs. Climate

is the short-term atmospheric conditions in an area like, “It’s raining” or “It’s sunny today”. As such, weather can change day to day.

is the usual weather activity that can be expected for an area and time of year such as, “Minnesota is so snowy during the winter” or “Florida is sunny in the summer”. Climate is measured in 30-year intervals, so the term refers to the continual change of the climate over time from what is typically expected to happen.

Some people confuse weather and climate. For example, you may hear something like, “This snowstorm is crazy…we need global warming!” However, this statement confuses weather and climate. A snowstorm that lasts for a few days is a weather event; global warming is part of climate change which is measured over decades. Earth could have its hottest day on record–a weather event–but we cannot call that climate change unless a trend indicating a change in temperature can be measured over a 30-year period.

K-6 Standards

3-ESS2-2. Obtain and combine information to describe climates in different regions of the world.

Key Takeaways

  • Weather: what is happening NOW
  • Climate: what happens USUALLY

What factors determine whether an area has a hot or cold climate?

L.O.W.E.R. Near Water

  • L:
    • Latitudes near the Equator have warmer temperatures.
    • Latitudes near the North and South poles have colder temperatures.
  • O: Ocean currents
    • The temperature of an ocean current affects the temperature of the air that passes over it.
    • Example: The California Current brings cooler air from north to south; therefore, California’s coastal cities tend to have a cooler climate. Conversely, the Gulf Stream carries warmer air from tropical areas to the southeastern United States; therefore, this region tends to have a warmer climate.
On this map, you can see the cold California Current (#6) that carries cold air to the west coast and the warm Gulf Stream (#1) that carries warm air to the east coast. “Global Conveyer Belt” by Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung is licensed under CC BY 2.0
  • W: Wind and
    • Air masses take on the climatic conditions of the area where they are formed. When wind moves these air masses to a new area, they bring the climatic conditions with them which can affect the weather and climate of the new location.
    • Example: If the wind or air mass is coming from the Arctic, it will bring colder air to an area. If the wind or air mass is coming from the tropics, it will bring warmer air to an area.
  • E: Elevation
    • Higher altitudes tend to be cooler, while lower altitudes tend to be warmer. This is because there is less pressure at higher altitudes, so the air expands and cools.
  • R: Relief (aka )
    • When an air mass rises to pass over topography such as a mountain, it expands and cools. This causes precipitation on that side of the mountain. A is created because the precipitation cannot pass over the mountain to the other side.
Rain Shadow” by NPS is public domain
    • Example: The Sierra Nevada mountain range in California is a topographical feature that affects climate. West of the mountains, moist air comes off the Pacific Ocean. As this air rises to go up the mountains, precipitation occurs; San Francisco, a city west of the Sierra Nevada, is known for having a cool and wet climate. On the other side of the mountain, precipitation is blocked and the area becomes a desert known as a rain shadow; Death Valley, one of the hottest and driest places in the world is located east of the Sierra Nevada.
  • Near Water:
    • In the summer, water acts like an air conditioner to keep the air temperatures cool. In the winter, water acts like a heater to keep the temperatures from getting too cool.
    • Continental climate=far from water; maritime climate=near water.
    • Example: As seen in the map below, Ontario, Canada–an inland province–has a moderate climate due to its proximity to the Great Lakes. Ontario is cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter than other areas at the same due to the effects of the Great Lakes.
Map of Canada” by E Pluribus Anthony is public domain



K-PS3-1. Make observations to determine the effect of sunlight on Earth’s surface. [Clarification Statement: Examples of Earth’s surface could include sand, soil, rocks, and water.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment of temperature is limited to relative measures such as warmer/cooler.]


K-ESS2-1. Use and share observations of local weather conditions to describe patterns over time. [Clarification Statement: Examples of qualitative observations could include descriptions of the weather (such as sunny, cloudy, rainy, and warm); examples of quantitative observations could include numbers of sunny, windy, and rainy days in a month. Examples of patterns could include that it is usually cooler in the morning than in the afternoon and the number of sunny days versus cloudy days in different months.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment of quantitative observations limited to whole numbers and relative measures such as warmer/cooler.]
K-ESS3-2. Ask questions to obtain information about the purpose of weather forecasting to prepare for, and respond to, severe weather.* [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on local forms of severe weather.]
3-ESS2-1. Represent data in tables and graphical displays to describe typical weather conditions expected during a particular season. [Clarification Statement: Examples of data could include average temperature, precipitation, and wind direction.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment of graphical displays is limited to pictographs and bar graphs. Assessment does not include climate change.]
3-ESS3-1. Make a claim about the merit of a design solution that reduces the impacts of a weather-related hazard.[Clarification Statement: Examples of design solutions to weather-related hazards could include barriers to prevent flooding, wind resistant roofs, and lightning rods.]
MS-ESS2-5. Collect data to provide evidence for how the motions and complex interactions of air masses result in changes in weather conditions. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on how air masses flow from regions of high pressure to low pressure, causing weather (defined by temperature, pressure, humidity, precipitation, and wind) at a fixed location to change over time, and how sudden changes in weather can result when different air masses collide. Emphasis is on how weather can be predicted within probabilistic ranges. Examples of data can be provided to students (such as weather maps, diagrams, and visualizations) or obtained through laboratory experiments (such as with condensation).] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include recalling the names of cloud types or weather symbols used on weather maps or the reported diagrams from weather stations.]
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. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on how patterns vary by latitude, altitude, and geographic land distribution. Emphasis of atmospheric circulation is on the sunlight-driven latitudinal banding, the Coriolis effect, and resulting prevailing winds; emphasis of ocean circulation is on the transfer of heat by the global ocean convection cycle, which is constrained by the Coriolis effect and the outlines of continents. Examples of models can be diagrams, maps and globes, or digital representations.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include the dynamics of the Coriolis effect.]




PS3.B: Conservation of Energy and Energy Transfer

ESS2.D: Weather and Climate


Third Grade

ESS2.D: Weather and Climate

ESS3.B: Natural Hazards

Middle School

ESS2.C: The Roles of Water in Earth’s Surface Processes

ESS2.D: Weather and Climate


Crosscutting concepts


Cause and Effect

middle school

Cause and Effect

Systems and System Models

Stability and Change