How is climate change causing extreme weather? Weather and climate are more related than you think...
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Understanding the difference between weather and climate is key to climate solutions. This can seem obvious at first, but take a moment to think about how you would answer the question if a 5-year-old asked you. Or, as it often happens, if someone told you, "Global warming can't be real; we had an extra-cold winter".
To have productive climate conversations and work towards climate solutions, we must understand the difference between weather and climate.
Here’s what we’ll cover step-by-step:
In short, climate is what you expect; weather is what you get. NOAA provides an easy analogy: "Here’s one way to visualize it. Weather tells you what to wear each day. Climate tells you what types of clothes to have in your closet."
Now that we're on the same page, let's break this down a little further.
🎯 Action step 1 of 4: READ — Let's start by looking at a few articles together.
We experience weather every day, and it's time to connect the dots to the bigger climate picture. We're in a climate emergency, and these heat waves and droughts are not standalone events. (Fun, right?)
Here's 3 examples that show why the difference between weather and climate — and their interconnection — is so important.
1. There is no drought in California.
We know this editorial post from the LA Times sounds controversial, because it's clearly false at face value: California has had water shortages and horrible dry spells over the past few years that result in worsening wildfires. So how can we say there's no drought? Well, let's go back to the difference between weather and climate. Droughts are extreme weather events. As the LA Times editorial says, "Droughts are deviations from the norm. What we have now is no deviation. These droughts are now part of what's expected — part of our changing climate. Read more here.
2. In Canada, sea creatures are cooking in their shells from the 2021 heat wave.
A marine biologist "roughly estimates that a total of one billion animals died in the Salish Sea off the coast of Vancouver during the heat wave". The weather is hot, but the climate is consistently getting hotter. Our dying mussel friends will also likely disrupt the food chain in the oceans as temperatures continue to rise. 😭 Again, this heat wave is an example of an extreme weather event, but because of our changing climate, extreme weather events are becoming closer and closer to the norm. Read more here.
3. Hotter weather is a public health emergency.
Eric Holthaus, our trusted meteorologist partner and climate scientist, points out that climate isn't just a science issue. It's a human rights issue. For example, farmworkers and residents of racially segregated neighborhoods are bearing the brunt of extreme weather events, which will only continue to rise with human-induced climate change. Hotter weather, as it converges into a hotter climate, is a public health emergency and will have ripple effects — increased air pollution, more asthma attacks, droughts, wildfires, and more. Read more here.
The difference between weather and climate climate can be hard to grasp because the two concepts are so intertwined. When you're having these climate conversations with friends or family, visuals can do wonders.
If there's ONE thing you'll do today, pick a family member who doesn't quite "get it" on climate change. Not someone who doesn't believe in it, but someone who doesn't understand how bad and urgent it is. Show them NASA's climate time machine.
🏁 Checkpoint: This is the end of action step 1 of 4: READ.
🎯 Action step 2 of 4: LISTEN — we'll watch a short video or listen to a podcast to further expand on our topic.
Now, we'll watch a 6-minute video. It's an effective tool for communicating the weather x climate relationship to others. This 2018 video talks about extreme weather events, how a changing climate causes what we're going through, and what we can do.
In the last section, we talked about how weather and climate are different yet linked together; in this video, you'll learn how climate change makes extreme weather worse.
You'll learn that:
Example # 1: heavier rainfall — Increase in greenhouse gas emissions → increase in global temperatures over the last 50 years → warmer air → more water vapor → more rain → heavier rainfall in an average storm
Example #2: worse wildfires — Increase in greenhouse gas emissions → increase in global temperatures over the last 50 years → warmer surface temperatures → warmer oceans → larger storms → hotter summers → bigger droughts → worse wildfires
🏁 Checkpoint: This is the end of action step 2 of 4: LISTEN.
🎯 Action step 3 of 4: ACT — Now it's time to do something. Let's go!
Now that you're up to speed on the difference between weather and climate, and why they both matter in climate change conversations, let's actually do something about it. Here are some options!
1. Talking about the weather is our most classic small talk example, and it's time to put it to work.
You can take a free climate adaptation course, get tips on how to talk to kids about climate change, and use this How Much Hotter is your Hometown than When You Were Born quiz for some easy peasy conversation starters. Don't forget about the NASA climate time machine.
2. Get prepared.
Wherever in the world you are, it's likely that you'll be affected by wildfire smoke this year. My neighbor made this wildfire starter pack doc with links on what to buy. Your health matters, and it's often hard to tell how bad the smoke situation is if there's not a fire burning near you. (Hint: it's bad, yikes on bikes)
3. Work with homeless shelters and mutual aid organizations to pass out disaster resilience packets.
Homeless folks and communities of color (generally Black and Indigenous communities) are disproportionately affected by extreme weather events. Find a mutual aid org near you here — many will distribute N95 masks, provide relief after flooding, and more.
4. Sign up for a justice-oriented weather report.
The weather affects everyone. Currently is a weather service — a community of people sharing resources and delivering justice, hope, connection, safety, and resilience in a world in urgent need of systemic action. They operate in cities around the world and they're adding new ones all the time. You basically get an on-call meteorologist whom you can ask questions whenever you want!
5. Support Grist's weather and climate coverage.
In our opinion, Grist is the best climate reporting newsroom. They run special editions often — in 2021, they started a series on wildfires. We love Grist because they focus on solutions while still hitting you with the truth, but their emphasis on what we can fix is a great way to find next steps.
6. Get accountable!
If you already know what you need to do to fight climate change (fly less, drive less, cut out meat, switch your investments, don't go to space with money you made off of exploiting your workers, etc.), it's time to DO it.
Of course, the Soapbox Project community is your new online home if you're looking for joyful + courageous accountability. Join here.
🏁 Checkpoint: This is the end of action step 3 of 4: ACT.
Before we go any further, it's time for you to pledge your commitment. It takes less than 30 seconds to pledge and we can bother you about it in a friendly way, so we can hold each other accountable. Pledge here!
🎯 Action step 4 of 4: REFLECT — what can you commit to? What fresh perspectives can we look at?
Before we go any further, it's time for you to pledge your commitment. It takes less than 30 seconds to pledge and we can bother you about it in a friendly way, so we can hold each other accountable.
Okay, now it's time for our final action step — a virtual art walk!
Art Works for Change, an organization that "strives to harness the transformative power of art to promote awareness, provoke dialogue, and inspire action", partners with The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to bring you this art tour, spotlighting the climate crisis through the lens of art. There's 23 exhibits and it's all self-paced, so you can spend as little as a minute just scrolling through it.Take the tour here.
Our Soapbox pick is below.
Weather and climate are more interconnected than you think! As extreme weather patterns become more common, it's important to continue acknowledging and raising awareness of this relationship.
🏁 Checkpoint: This is the end of action step 4 of 4: REFLECT.
Check out our membership community for more resources like free weekly events with social justice experts, sustainable product discounts, pre-written email templates, a social impact job board, and in-person hangouts with new friends. Thanks for taking action with Soapbox Project!
Get our free bite-sized climate action plans before you go!