Where Do Weather and Climate Come From?

In the 1960’s and 1970’s, the global cooling theory held sway. That was simply the notion that the globe was cooling off and another ice age was imminent. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, global warming was the fear. That was the notion that the globe was heating up too quickly and that it was already hotter than ever. Part of the confusion that shapes popular opinion is the fundamental question: Where do weather and climate come from?

Weather and climate

It is first important to understand the difference between weather and climate. They aren’t the same thing.

Weather is the combination of atmospheric factors. These are primarily humidity, air pressure, temperature, wind speed and direction, and precipitation. All of these impact weather conditions that we experience on a daily basis.

Climate is an average of the weather over a long period of time, usually over a century or more. The longer the period of time the average is over, the more accurate the climate model is. A great deal of this has to do with the law of large numbers. Basically, the idea is that there will be times when conditions are far below average and other times when the conditions are far above average, but over a long period of time, the extremes tend to cancel each other out. The longer the period of time, the truer this becomes.

For this reason, climate numbers that have been averaged over a thousand years are far more accurate than the climate numbers that have been averaged over only 100 years.

The problems with global cooling and global warming

There are two major problems with either global theory. The first is that accurate readings on a global scale haven’t been recorded over a century or more. For instance, in 1918, over 80% of the weather stations that are currently used didn’t even exist.

The second is that focusing on only one aspect of the weather, such as temperature, to derive a climate model is totally meaningless. As already mentioned, weather is a combination of a number of factors and each of them impacts the others.

This means that neither the global cooling theory nor the global warming theory is a valid climate model because they focus only on temperatures. Since accurate temperature readings on a global scale weren’t possible a century and more ago, even the invalid climate models aren’t and can’t be accurate.

This is an important point because both theories are based on the supposed accuracy of what amounts to guesses. For example, we know that over-all temperatures were much hotter 2,000 years ago than they are today, in the inhabited part of the world back then. However, the inhabited part of the world where people were recording such things as the weather was far smaller than it is today. The entire world population at the time was measured in the millions while it is currently measured in the thousands of millions.

Even though those locations recorded temperatures in excess of anything we’ve experienced in the past hundred years, it lacks meaning because if there were temperatures 10 or 15 degrees cooler than average in a corresponding area that is currently populated that wasn’t populated then, there would be an offset in global temperatures that we aren’t aware of. There was simply nobody recording it.

Where do the weather and climate come from?

Having established all of this, the answer to the original question should make more sense. The weather we experience and the average of that weather (climate) comes from the sun. More precisely, it comes from the uneven heating of the Earth’s surface due to solar radiation.

Newton’s third law of thermodynamics, paraphrased, states that heat always flows toward cold. The airflow from warmer areas to cooler ones generates weather.

On a complex and vast scale, the earth is a gigantic self-regulating system. If there is too much electrical differential, thunderstorms are systems that equalize the electrical difference. If ocean surface temperatures get too high in a certain area of the ocean, hurricanes and typhoons form to equalize the surface temperatures. If there is an area of abnormally low air pressure in the atmosphere, an area of above-average high-pressure forms to counter it.

This self-regulation applies to all facets of weather. Indeed, the self-regulation is the cause of weather.

This also brings up something else that we’ve only learned about fairly recently. The output of the sun isn’t at all constant. It varies considerably. Since the solar radiation is ultimately the cause of weather, it is virtually certain that such variations have far more impact on the global climate than anything else.

That rather lowers the importance of mankind in the entire picture, doesn’t it? After all, we have absolutely no control over the solar output and we are just beginning to understand how those changes affect the earth. We are nowhere close to understanding why the changes take place and we don’t presently have the means of figuring out what changes in solar output were in the past.

We know that the sun’s radiation causes weather and climate. However, what we don’t know far exceeds what we do know.


What do you think?


Written by Rex Trulove

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    • In large part, it is localized, however, changes in solar output are being recorded. Previous to about 10-20 years ago, the common belief was that the energy we get from the sun was constant. We now know that there is considerable variation. Since the sun is the source of weather on the earth, changes to that source virtually always will change the weather on earth. The problem is that we are just starting to understand that there are changes. We still don’t know what causes them and in what ways it will affect weather.

      As an aside, here in Montana, there has been a noticeable decrease in temperatures over the past decade or so. This year did get up to average high temperatures, but that was after a colder than normal winter, with average snowfall, and a cooler, longer, and damper spring. Normally, people are starting to plant their gardens in April. This year, most gardens went in partway through June, when it finally warmed up enough. By June, we are already starting to have consistently hot weather. This year, that didn’t happen until well into July. The transition from cool/wet weather to hot/dry weather was abrupt, though, so for a time it certainly felt hotter than normal. A check of the local weather records showed that it wasn’t, though. I suppose that there could have been a change in solar output to bring that about, but it is hard to say with our very limited knowledge.

        • I just learned that NASA is predicting another Maunder minimum that will supposedly last at least 30 years and it may have already begun. A Maunder Minimum is a period when the sun has far fewer sunspots than normal. The best known Maunder Minimum is the one believed to have caused the Little Ice Age. If we have one, we can expect longer and colder winters, like we’ve been seeing in the north. Summers, though shorter, could be hotter as the earth tries to compensate.

          Apparently, too, the last few decades, we’ve had above average sunspot activity. That could easily explain the slight increase in global temperatures up until about 2010.

  1. Rex, while I do understand your points. I would ask that again, you present both sides fairly when presenting information like this.

    1. Scientists taking core samples in Antarctica can accurately to within 1 degree predict temperature ranges back as far as 10000 years ago. That shows a significant change in temperatures in the past 50 years that is extremely out of the normal range.
    2. The rate of Anartic Ice reduction is higher now than any time we can measure (back 10000 years). THe change in the overall ocean level will reduce a number of global cities to well, underwater status very quickly.
    3. The range of change, again documented by scientists is HUGE year over year.
    THere have been three 100 year weather events in the past three years. THose by the definition do not occur 3 years in a row. There is no geological or previous records of such storms. There are more than 400 years of reasonably accurate weather data collections just from scientists. We use scientific measures of weather designed more than 200 years ago.

    • I can understand that you are wanting to talk about climate theories, but this article isn’t about the validity of either theory or lack thereof. Climate theories are off topic. Strong arguments can be made for “both sides”, but again, this article isn’t about which way our climate is changing. About 80% or more of the weather stations currently collecting weather data around the world didn’t exist 100 years ago, so there is simply no way that there is more than “400 years of reasonably accurate weather data”, globally. Even this is off-topic.

      The question that this article answer is a simple one; where do weather and climate come from? The answer is equally simple; the sun. This means that changes in solar output have more to do with changes in weather and climate than anything that happens on the planet. We now know that solar output isn’t constant. However, even talking about the changes in solar output would be off-topic, though certainly worthy of a separate article (or a few hundred).

    • Every year, Arctic ice melts and every year it refreezes. Neither would be possible without weather that comes from the sun. The last several years have been colder than normal for much of the world, especially the northern US, and not even that would be possible without weather that is driven by the sun. Without it, the earth would be a frozen ball.

      As far as effects on weather, there are literally thousands of things that affect weather. For instance, concrete and asphalt readily absorb heat and slowly radiate it, so temperatures tend to be higher in cities than in surrounding rural areas. Even at that, though, temperature is just one aspect of weather and it isn’t any more or less important than any of the others.


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