Climate change basics: weather vs. climate

A Moment of Science

I want to explain the most common climate change comment I receive as whenever it gets cold, the “what about global warming” discussion is sure to follow.

This statement comes from a misunderstanding about the difference between weather and climate.  


Data shows that summers are getting hotter, and winters less cold. But less cold doesn’t mean “never cold.”

Cold days, maybe with some snow, will still come and go, but will happen less often and be less intense as our climate changes.

Climate describes what you should typically expect, but it doesn’t include any specific details about what the weather will be on a certain day.

Climate refers to the atmospheric averages, temperature, rainfall, snowfall, over a long period of time, typically 30 years, for a region.  Weather is most of what StormTeam2 talks about in our forecast: the daily changes for a specific area like the Lowcountry.

In other words, weather tells you what clothes to put on in the morning, and climate tells you what clothes you should have in your closet. While it’s not time for a wardrobe change yet, it may be needed in the future as our climate changes. 


The past 5 years have been the warmest years on record, and that pattern isn’t showing any signs of slowing down anytime soon as greenhouse gas concentrations continue to rise.

Even if we cut out all of our carbon emissions today, our planet would still warm as the greenhouse gases we add to the atmosphere last for generations. About half of the CO2 emitted since 1850 remains in our atmosphere today- warming our planet.

Predicted global average temperature rises through 2100. Each line is a different outcome based on future reductions (or lack thereof) in greenhouse gas emissions.

While there’s no stopping warming in our lifetime, we can control the amount our planet warms in the future. Climate scientists forecast a global temperature rise of 2 to 7 degrees over the next century- the extent of this rise is dependent on how and if global populations will adapt and reduce their carbon footprint. 


A person in debt will stay in debt if they keep spending, so why not be more frugal?

The cascading local & global impacts of climate change begin with our greenhouse gas emissions, and ultimately our actions. 

Storm Team 2 Meteorologist David Dickson

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