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Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve

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Climate and Weather: What’s the diff’?

Written on: July 25th, 2017 in Guest BlogNERRResearch

To add variety to the blog and to offer a fresh perspective from our visitors, we are inviting guest bloggers to write posts describing their visits and thoughts while at the Reserve. This guest blog is Part III of  M.L. Christmas’ interview with Dr. Kari St. Laurent, DNERR’s Research Coordinator. Enjoy! (Johanna Hripto, DNERR Assistant Education Coordinator & Blog Editor)

The pressing matters of the spikey weather-chart and the battling rain-gauges having been discussed, this guest-blogger faced the obvious, as-yet unasked question…then went there.

MLC: What’s the difference between “climate” and “weather”? Are the terms interchangeable?

KSL: That is one of my favorite questions! —

Let me pause the narrative. Dr. St. Laurent is a kind, patient, education-minded person, but I could not help but suspect her response was meteorologist-speak for “Oh no! Not that question again! Puh-leeez!” But she politely continued, without missing a beat:

A beautiful, warm afternoon at the Blackbird Creek Reserve

…Here is the analogy used by the National Weather Service. “Climate” is what you have in your closet: tank tops, bathing suits, sweaters, parkas, etc. “Weather” is what you are wearing today.

Easy-peasy sunblock-squeezy, right? Things were about to get slightly more complicated:

Climate, in meteorological terms, uses a long-term mean, which is another name for a statistical average. The U.S. comparisons for weather data are based on a 30-year mean. Every 10 years, that average gets updated. It is a moving baseline. Right now, the baseline is the 1981-to-2010 dataset.

When a TV meteorologist states that “today was 8 degrees above normal,” “normal” is “climate,” and the 8-degree variance is the current “weather.” Weather is the day-to-day change. So “climate” and “weather” are part of the same picture, but they are saying two different things.

Anticipating the guest-blogger’s next question, Dr. St. Laurent went on: 

       A partial glimpse of what the scientists see at the             St.Jones Reserve and elsewhere: mud, water, air, plants, animals, boardwalk, and a whole lotta weather!

“Climate change” is about any statistically significant change in the long-term trend, even though the weather is of course going to fluctuate from day to day.

Scientists, such as those of us at DNERR, look for evidence of those long-term changes that might reveal themselves in the course of our research.

MLC: So, what does the future hold, in the meteorological field? There has been so much scientific study, for so many years, is there really anything left for climate scientists, marine biologists, etc., to learn?

KSL: Yes! Our weather forecasting can only get better. Advances in satellites and modelling continue to be made, which gives a greater accuracy of data; and pixels are getting smaller, which means we have access to even-higher-resolution images — and weather information — than before.

Thank you, “Dr. Kari”! I got the picture!

Text and photos by M.L. Christmas

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M.L. Christmas, MSM, is a freelance writer/editor living in the Dover area. She is a longtime member of Delaware Press Association and the National Federation of Press Women.

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