Module Overview

GOES View of Hurricane Sandy. Image Credit: NASA
GOES View of Hurricane Sandy. Image Credit: NASA

How do the methods used to study weather and climate differ?

Before the end of June 2011, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) officially declared the year as being among the most extreme weather-event years in recorded U.S. history (Morello & ClimateWire, 2011). During the first six months of 2011, there were eight weather-related disasters resulting in total damages of over $32 billion. Whenever these events like Hurricane Katrina (which devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005) or the extreme drought and massive wildfires (which scorched Texas in 2011) occur, people naturally wonder whether and to what extent global climate change may be influencing them.

Even though it is impossible to directly link global climate change to a particular weather event, many of these extreme events are consistent with expected changes from a warming climate. According to the World Meteorological Organization, “Scientists are still studying the links between these events and climate change.” This evidence is beginning to show a pattern consistent with scientists’ predictions of consequences resulting from climate change.

Why are scientists so cautious about confirming a link between extreme weather events and climate change? To help you answer this question, you will first need to understand the difference between weather and climate.

This module examines the fundamentals of weather and climate and why scientists are cautious about confirming a link between the two. You will learn the differences between weather and climate, how climate is classified, and how scientists define and identify weather extremes.

When you complete this module, you should be able to

  • Differentiate between weather and climate.
  • Characterize the five general types of climate, as defined by Koppen’s Climate classification system.
  • Explain the relationship between global warming and climate change.
  • Compare methods meteorologists use for forecasting weather to those used by climate scientists for predicting climate trends.
  • Analyze temperature data to identify recent heat waves at various locations on Earth.
  • Identify extreme weather events using the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) website.

    You may also download the 11-page PDF of this module.