Frequently Asked Questions about Climate and Climate Change

FS spring scenery


What is the Difference between Weather and Climate?
Weather consists of the hourly and day-to-day variations in the meteorological conditions, such as precipitation or temperature. Climate is the average weather conditions in given locations over longer periods of time.

What is Climate Change?
Climate change is any long-term, significant shift in the “average climate” that a given region experiences. Average climate may include average temperature, precipitation and wind patterns, as well as natural variability and extremes.

What is the Difference between Climate Change and Climate Variability?
Climate change involves significant changes in the climate system over time periods ranging from decades to millions of years.

Climate variability refers to inherent fluctuations within the climate system. These fluctuations can occur on a variety of timescales, from seasonal and annual,to longer term fluctuations, like the “little ice age” of the 15th through the 18th centuries. Examples of seasonal fluctuations are the El Niño and La Niña phenomena. The El Niño phenomenon is “characterized by unusually warm oceanic temperatures while La Niña brings unusually cool oceanic temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific" (NOAA, 2010).


Image above: Photo courtesy of USDA Forest Service

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