Our climate is changing, becoming warmer and wetter.
Climate change is one of the defining issues of our time—it’s discussed every day by government officials, celebrities, scientists, and the public.
Weather to Climate: Our Changing World presents the fundamentals of weather and climate and explains how they are connected. The exhibition connects weather to the science behind global climate changes and explores how it affects human and animal communities around the world.
Climate change may seem so complex that individual action may seem pointless. Weather to Climate informs, motivates, and inspires people to discover that every action they take in their own lives can play a role in mitigating the impact of climate change.
A Closer Look
What Makes Weather?
Weather can change very quickly from one day to the next. Six main factors make weather: temperature, atmospheric pressure, wind, humidity, precipitation, and cloudiness. The strength of these “ingredients” and their combinations generate the atmospheric conditions that determine the weather events we experience: sunshine, snowfall, tornadoes—you name it!
There are also natural forces that can cause shifts in weather. Jet streams are strong winds flowing like rivers in the atmosphere. They steer weather systems, transporting storms to the regions underneath them. There are two main jet streams in each hemisphere: the subtropical and polar jet streams. The polar jet particularly influences North America’s winter weather: it may bring storms (if it’s over your area), mild weather (if it is north of you), or a bitterly cold winter (when it’s to the south).
The polar jet forms where the cold polar air meets the warm equatorial air. In North America during the winter, when the North Pole is dark 24/7 and colder, the polar air pushes the equatorial air southward, making the polar jet move south. Because of the increased temperature contrast between the North Pole and the Equator, the polar jet is also stronger during the winter.
Natural climate variability refers to the variation in climate parameters caused by nonhuman forces. You can learn more about natural variability by watching the video below.
What’s The Difference Between Weather & Climate?
Weather is what happens in the atmosphere at a particular time and place. It can change quickly for many reasons. But, every place has typical weather patterns, which we call climate. Climate is the average weather conditions in a particular place over 30 years. Climates tend to be relatively stable for centuries or millennia.
Think of it this way: Your outfit reflects the weather of the moment. Your wardrobe reflects the climate of your home town. What does your wardrobe tell you about your home town’s climate?
Scientists observe weather. Tracking weather patterns over decades helps them determine the climate of a region, and how it’s changing.
Climates Of The World
There are many climates across our planet. Climates are created by different combinations of these factors: latitude, altitude, wind currents, proximity to oceans or lakes, and ocean currents. Climate helps us explain and understand the plants and animals (including humans) that live in a region, their characteristics, and their lifestyles.
From the southernmost point in Ka Lae, Hawaii to the furthest north at Point Barrow, Alaska, the United States spans so many latitudes that it includes all the climate categories. The country’s varied altitudes—from the peak of Mount Denali to the depths of Death Valley—also add to its climate diversity. For example, the climate of Hawaii’s Mauna Kea volcano (13,796 feet) is dry and cold—more than 80°F colder than other parts of the state.
Every two to seven years, “El Niño,” an unusual warming of the Pacific Ocean along South America, impacts worldwide weather patterns. In the US, El Niño winters are milder and drier in the northern states, and cooler and wetter in the southern states. “La Niña” is an unusual cooling of the Pacific Ocean along South America. It also affects the US weather, though less severely than El Niño, usually making winters drier and warmer in the Southeast, and colder and wetter in the Northwest.
What’s Your Climate, Chicago?
The Nature Museum is located in Chicago. Our city’s climate is temperate continental, with warm summers, cold winters, and moderate springs and falls.
The polar jet influences precipitation, and creates frequent fluctuations in humidity, cloudiness, wind direction, and temperature. But, as a mid-latitude city in the middle of a continent, Chicago will always get cold winters. Lake Michigan protects Chicago from warmer summers and colder winters, but causes more lake-effect snowfalls. The inland region experiences the “urban heat island effect,” which makes urban areas hotter than their surroundings especially in the summer.
Can you solve the climate puzzle? See if you can match the area of the world with its climate. Click the here to download this printable puzzle.