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What do we mean by climate?

Weather and climate are not quite the same. So what is weather, and what is climate?

The main difference between weather and climate is the timescale that they each refer to. Weather describes the conditions of the atmosphere over short periods of time, whilst climate is the average of these conditions over longer time periods. 

We generally describe the weather in terms of hourly or daily measurements of temperature, rainfall, cloudiness, sunshine, wind speeds, and so on. Climate, which comes from the Greek klima meaning 'area', usually refers to a region's long-term weather patterns, and can be measured as an average over timescales ranging from months or seasons, to years and longer.  

There is natural variability in both weather and climate, but 'climate change' refers to systematic changes across the climate system in response to a forcing agent, which can be natural (e.g. a volcanic eruption) or a result of human activities (e.g. emissions of greenhouse gases from industry or changes in land use). Climate change can be observed on global, regional and local scales, and is typically measured on timescales of 30 years. For example, when we talk about the 'current' climate we typically mean the average temperature or precipitation over the 30 year period from 1981-2010.

Global climate is influenced by many interacting systems, including the atmosphere, oceans, land and ice, which together we call the climate system. Changes in the global climate system also affect regional climate, and you can read more about these interactions by following the links below.

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