Wunderground Meteorologist Shaun Tanner

Rationale and Lesson 1, part 1: Weather and Climate

By: shauntanner, 6:01 AM GMT on August 29, 2011

Last week, I had an idea for a blog series that would do two things. It would allow my head to empty some thoughts on this virtual journal I call a blog and it would also hopefully spill out some useful content for you, the reader. Problem is, a mistress named Irene has taken over my life for the past week. Finally, I have broken up with Irene, leaving more than enough time to climb back into the blogger's seat.

You see, along with being the Head of Meteorological Operations here at Weather Underground, I also teach an introductory Weather & Climate at a local college. In the class, I spend an entire semester teaching generally freshmen and sophomores the very first baby steps about the atmosphere and weather. Throughout the semester, I am amazed that some of my students do not know terms that are first-hand to me. These could be easy terms such as latitude and longitude but also more complex issues like cold fronts and temperature inversions.

While I was initially amazed that students could come into a place of higher learning without some of this knowledge (my error), I have recently come to an interesting conclusion. I quickly realized that they aren't scientist to begin with and I thus translated this lack of public knowledge on basic scientific ideas to the ever hyped theory of climate change.

Most of the general public gets a vast majority of their climate change information from the mainstream media. This could be in the form of the latest scientific study, news of the most recent ice sheet breaking off into the open ocean, or coverage of the minority of climate scientists who believe human-based climate change is not real or a hoax. This is where the problem lies. Journalists have an obligation to tell both sides of every story. EVERY STORY. While this may be a great paradigm for nearly every story out there, it is not ideal for the theory of human-based climate change. This is because by telling both sides of the climate change story, journalists are giving the 3% of legitimate climate change scientists who believe humans are not changing our climate an over-sized chunk of their entitled 50% of the journalist's pages. Thus, the remaining 97% of climate scientists are left scrambling for the other 50% of media space. This is clearly lop-sided. This would be the equivalent of giving the only 3 dissenters in a 100 person city hall meeting 50% of the discussion time. It is simply unfair.

Now, let's look at it from the general public's side. Keep in mind that the majority of the general public are not experts on complex ideas of the carbon cycle or even simplier ideas such as Earth's seasons. The public will consume these mass media climate change articles and studies, half of which say they have to make dramatic changes in their lifestyles for the good of the planet, and the other half saying that the life they are living is perfectly fine and climate change is naturally blissful.

From that point of view, the reason for the heated debate currently being argued at countless Saturday night parties is clear. Why would the general public flock toward the human-based climate change side, when they see that half of the data they get is telling them that their lives are perfect? Nobody wants to change their comfortable life, do they? It defies logic.

Thus, I have a solution to this entire problem. I am eliminating the mass media by making you all experts in the atmosphere and the air you breathe. By making you experts, you take away the part of the equation that allows you to digest bad science from minority climate change skeptics. Then, you will have no need to consume mass media articles since you will be able to tell right from wrong yourself. Sound good? I thought so. But, I can't start in the middle. For everybody's sake, I have to start at the beginning. Baby steps.

Thus, this blog series is aimed at making you an expert by making you a meteorologist. Don't worry, we will start gentle before getting into more complex issues. But first, we have to learn what the heck is the difference between weather and climate anyway?

Lesson 1: The Earth's Atmosphere

What is weather?
Easy enough question, right? Sure, until I hit you with another...What is climate? Are they the same? Not really. Actually, not at all.

Weather is defined as the condition of the atmosphere at any given time.

Let me give you some examples. If I say, "The temperature outside is 86 degrees", that is a statement of weather. It describes what the temperatures is outside at a particular time. You can describe past weather events as well as such, "Remember when we went to that baseball game and it poured on us?" Again, describing a component of the atmosphere at a particular time. There are numerous parameters you can use to describe weather.

-Air temperature
-Air pressure
-Many more

So, what is climate?
Quite simply, climate is the study of weather over a long period of time. Think about it. When you are moving to a different area of the country, one of the most common questions you will ask is "what is the climate like there?" If you are moving to Arizona, perhaps you know that the climate there is arid and dry, like a desert. But does that mean it is arid and dry everyday? No. Arizona can get quite a bit of rain in the Summer. So a statement of climate would be somthing like: "The average temperature for today is 86 degrees." This is not a statement of weather because is is talking about an average over a long period of time (most likely 30 years).

This brings up the famous quote, "Climate is what you expect, weather is what you get." If it helps you to remember it this way, go for it.

Okay, I can see you are falling asleep, so class is dismissed for now. But, for our next lesson, I want to talk (or write) about the very thing layer of Earth called the atmosphere. After all, you do call it home.



The FINAL Hurricane Irene Broadcast SPECIAL Friday 4:30 p.m. ET, 1:30 p.m. PT!

By: shauntanner, 7:12 PM GMT on August 26, 2011

Listen to the SPECIAL Hurricane Irene broadcast today at 4:30 p.m. ET, 1:30 p.m. PT. by clicking HERE! Click the "Start Listening Now! link on that page.

Hurricane Irene continues to change by the minute, so make sure you tune into the final Hurricane Irene SPECIAL today at 4:30 p.m. ET, 1:30 p.m. PT. Meteorologists Rob Carver, Tim Roche, and Shaun Tanner will take phone calls and emails for about an hour regarding Hurricane Irene.

Phone calls can go to 415-983-2634 and emails can be sent to broadcast@wunderground.com

Listen to the SPECIAL Hurricane Irene broadcast today at 4:30 p.m. ET, 1:30 p.m. PT. by clicking HERE!


The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

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Wunderground Meteorologist Shaun Tanner

About shauntanner

Shaun Tanner has been a meteorologist at Weather Underground since 2004.

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