What is Climate?

In the most general terms, climate is the average weather of a place or region. It describes what the average weather is like in a place or area in terms of elements such as temperature, precipitation, and seasons. The average is calculated with data amassed over many years and distilled down into the range of normal conditions. The scale of a climate can be as large as the entire globe and as small as a single backyard. As you might expect, the world climate is called “global climate” and every planet with an atmosphere has one. The climate of a single back yard is one of a range of class scales called “microclimates.”

Climatologists are people who study the long-term weather in an effort to understand what causes weather and to make predictions of what conditions will be like in the future. This study leads them to a greater understanding of the climate that becomes more and more crucial to the world as we grow more intertwined economically. Global weather events like El Niņo can be predicted now and the predictions get better and better as we understand more and more about the global climate. Understanding how El Niņo and La Niņa change the weather allows us to prepare for them and handle the changes much better.

Many climatologists (people who study climates) focus on large regions. The Sahara Desert, for instance, has a desert climate. It is consistently hot and dry. Across the Atlantic Ocean from this great African desert, the Amazon Basin of South America is almost as consistently hot and wet. Much of South Asia and Southeast Asia has a climate that changes from wet to dry over the course of a year. Still other places have 4 seasons, like much of North America, Europe and Asia, and conditions cycle between warm and cold as well as wet and dry. Far to the north and south, at the poles, the conditions are typically cold and dry.

Understanding what weather conditions are wherever you go allows you to take the weather conditions there into account. You know whether you need a parka or bermuda shorts and what storage methods for food, supplies and equipment you need to use. Do you need snow skies or water skies? Will an umbrella take up space needlessly or will you regret not having one with you? If you are a farmer, you'll know where to find the best growing conditions and where the greatest weather hazards occur. You'll also know what kinds of crops will grow well and what won't. These are just a few examples of what understanding climate can do for us.

Written by Melody L. Higdon, 14 WS/DOPA