Behind the Forecast: Climate vs. weather

Behind the Forecast: Climate vs. weather
So far this year we've seen significant deviations from climatological normals including a warmer than average May in Kentucky and Indiana.

Listen to Science Behind the Forecast with Meteorologist Tawana Andrew every Friday on 89.3 WFPL at 7:45 a.m.

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) -  Climate change is often a hot topic but what exactly is climate?

Well, the weather is what we experience each day: heavy rain, bright sunshine or even intense tornadoes.

Climate is the average of our daily weather (highs, lows, wind speed, rainfall totals and more) over a specific number of years. Average weather values represent the climatological normals for that particular day.

The National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) defines a climatic normal as the average of values over a consecutive 30-year-period.

Meteorologists will compare daily observed values to the "normal" average temperatures. That's how we can tell if a season is cooler, wetter, warmer or drier than normal.

Think of weather as your daily mood and climate as your personality. Just because you're mad one day doesn't mean you have an angry personality.

Big changes in the day-to-day and even year-to-year weather don't necessarily mean that there are wild changes in climate. Even those drastic changes will eventually become a part of an area's climate as numbers are averaged together. So far this year we've seen significant deviations from climatological normals including a warmer than average May in Kentucky and Indiana. Overall, the contiguous United States had its warmest May on record, according to NCEI.

There are several climate groups across the world with each being divided by seasonal temperature and precipitation patterns. The Köppen climate classification was developed by meteorologist Wladimir Köppen and published back in 1900 and revised in 1918. Köppen worked with Rudolf Geiger to adjust the categories which are known today as the Köppen-Geiger climate classification system.

The major climate categories are as follows:

  • Tropical climates: These moist, tropical climates stretch from the equator to 15° to 25° latitude north and south. These areas typically see average temperatures higher than 64°F and usually see around 59 inches of rain each year.
  • Dry climates: These are areas where the amount of evaporation and transpiration is greater than the amount of precipitation that falls. These climates are typically in large continental regions of mid-latitudes (from 20° to 35° north and south of the equator) and are usually surrounded by mountains.
  • Highlands: These areas are based on elevation. In mountainous areas, the climatological changes are very drastic over short distances.
  • Mid-latitude Moist Subtropical Climate: These areas typically have warm and humid summers and mild winters and stretch from 30° to 50° latitude. You'll find them mainly on eastern and western borders of continents. Convective thunderstorms are normal during the summer with mid-latitude cyclones (think cold-fronts) during the winter. WAVE Country has this type of climate.
  • Moist Continental Mid-latitude Climates: These areas have cool summers and cold winters. Strong snowstorms, intense winds and bitter cold are common during the winter thanks to continental arctic and polar air masses sweeping south.
  • Polar climates: Cold temperatures are common all-year-round. During the warmest month, average temperatures are still less than 50° F. These are found on the northern coastal areas of Asia, Europe and North America and in Greenland and Antarctica.

These categories are broken down even more! Learn about the subcategories here.

The terms climate change and global warming are often used interchangeably, but what do they really mean? Global warming refers to the rise of surface temperatures around the world. Climate change encompasses global warming and the impacts of increasing greenhouse gases amounts.

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