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The Interesting Comparison of Climate and Weather

For those who don’t know it, climate and weather aren’t the same things. Climate is weather that is averaged over a long period of time, usually 100 years or more. Weather is much more short-term; what is happening this week, this month, this year, and so forth. This means that there can be some very interesting comparisons made between climate and weather.

I’ve mentioned a number of times that our weather is getting noticeably colder here in Montana, especially over the past five years. In only one of those five years have the temperatures consistently been above or at the average, or climate. Of course, temperatures are only one facet of weather, but it is the one that is the rage for the past couple decades.

Saying that we’ve been colder than normal for the past five years means little since it takes a century to establish what the climate is. It is also not tangible, so I thought it might be interesting to take a ‘snapshot’, if you will, of what I mean.

Using yesterday as an example and our snapshot, our high temperature was 35 F and our low temperature was 16 F. This is actually substantially warmer than it has been for the past week, but how does it stack up against the climate/average?

The average high temperature for February 26th in this location is 43 F. The average low is 23 F. Thus, our high temperature was 8 degrees below average and our low temperature was 7 degrees below average.

How about the record setters? Well, a record high of 60 F was set in 1896, well over a century ago. A record low was set just 55 years ago, in 1962, of -10 F. This means that our temperature yesterday was roughly 25 degrees cooler than the record heat and about the same amount warmer than the record cold.

That is just the temperature. What about the precipitation? In this, we are right about at the average for the day; we got .01 inches of precipitation, which translates to about an inch and a half of snow. That is about how much we get on average for the 26th. However, we are way above average for the month.

In an average February in this location in Montana, .07 inches of precipitation are recorded, on average. In 2018, however, we’ve had 1.64 inches. In snowfall amount, we’ve had 19.1 inches of snow. That isn’t a record, though. Snowfall records were shattered throughout the state in 2017. Incidentally, the warmest day ever recorded in February here happened in 1995 when it reached 66 F. The coldest day in February happened in 1933 when the thermometers plunged to -28 F. Counting all of February, our temperatures this month are 5 F below climate averages.

It is quite interesting, however, that people around here are saying that this has been a mild year. If the temperatures and precipitation are used and are compared to the climate averages, it has still been much colder and snowier than normal. A person might wonder why people would say that this is a mild year if it has been colder and snowier than average. This is primarily because they are comparing this year to the previous five years, rather than to the climate averages. Compared to those five years, it really has been a mild year. Hence, our weather has been getting colder and snowier here and this hasn’t been simply a matter of an unusual year. It has actually been milder than it has been for a half decade.

I haven’t even touched the point that our summers have also been getting shorter and the winters longer but that is a different topic.

Incidentally, the top picture is of the hill about a hundred yards from our house and was taken after a ‘hot-snap’. The second picture is of the road that runs by our house.

What do you think?

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Written by Rex Trulove

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21 Comments

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  1. I know what you mean. Here in Jamaica our temperatures for the past five years have also been colder than average. Rem. I am used to days over 90o and nights over 80o so when a day doesn’t get above 79o… and a night drops maybe to 69o…. I am cold.

    • We rarely have humid air unless there is an inversion. We are in a river valley bounded on both sides by mountains that rise 2,000 – 3,000 feet above us. The river and the valley go roughly from the southeast to the northwest. A great deal of our weather comes in from the west and northwest, so it channels right down the valley most of the time. When we do have high humidity, it is usually just a few days before we have a blow that rushes down the valley and blows the humidity out.

      More often, we have the opposite problem; low humidity, particularly late in the summer. Our humidity often drops to 10-15%, which is dangerously low. The worst part is that this often happens when we have forest fires in the area, and since the low humidity often leads to stagnant air, the smoke fills the valley and just stays there, sometimes for weeks. It also gets very dry here in the winter, but that is to be expected. Cold air can’t hold as much moisture and warm air.

      • That’s really interesting, New Zealand is a South Pacific Island and we are surrounded by sea. Especially in Auckland which is on an isthmus, surrounded by sea on 3 sides but still connected. The weather here can often change.
        However, at the moment in Christchurch and Lyttleton in the South Island they have had a lot of fires. Some is the weather, and I suspect there are a few fire bug people living in Christchurch. Some fires in Dunedin in the South Island were not an accident.
        Weather is interesting.

  2. Very interesting article. I will have to check what our climate has been here for the past 100 years and more to see if we are below or above or the same. Just in my point of view, that is from my eyes and corporal temperature, this winter has been quite mild here in the Ottawa Valley compared to the good old days of 1954 to 1960 when I was younger. Although in these days, we did not have as many city snow removal plows and trucks as we have today. But thank you for pointing the difference.

    • People tend to have a short collective memory and that memory isn’t always accurate. I remember the cold and snow when I was growing up. Those memories are vivid. However, the cold affects me more now than it did when I was a child and back then, I was also quite short. A 10-foot snowbank back then seemed far higher than it would now. Thus, I’m not sure how much my vivid memories are tainted by the change in perspective.

    • That is so very true. Hopefully, this will give people some room for thought. The last five years here have been substantially colder and snowier than normal. That merely shows a trend and nothing more. It only impacts the climate if those totals are added in when figuring out the average for the past century. Even then, the impact will be minimal because there have also been years that have been above average, so the highs and lows offset each other.

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