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What's the difference between weather and climate? | WTOL 11 Weather

We've seen two clipper systems and felt bursts of arctic air in the last week. Even in a warming world, cold weather will continue to impact the region.

TOLEDO, Ohio — EDITOR'S NOTE: The attached video originally aired in Nov. 2021.

After a slow start to winter, Mother Nature is playing catch-up this week! 

Since last week, we’ve seen two clipper systems and felt multiple bursts of arctic air. Even in a warming world with climate change, cold weather will continue to impact the region during the winter.

Let's differentiate between weather and climate and talk about changes in the winter season due to global warming.

While winter started off mild in December, it turned sharply colder in January. The recent influx of frigid temperatures and bitterly cold wind chills has been a wake-up call that winter is still here, just late to the party! Even with the recent cold weather and clipper snowstorms, this winter will likely go down as a mild and dry one with above-average temperatures and below-normal snowfall.

We’ve differentiated between weather and climate in the past, but it’s important to distinguish these terms again.

Weather is what you see and feel outside on any given day. Climate is the average of the weather over years.

For instance, if you step outside and the wind chill is below zero, it’s safe to say the weather is cold! But, the observed trend of January weather growing warmer over time reflects climate change. 

Despite the recent cold snap, climate data from NOAA spanning the last decade reflects a three-degree increase in average temperatures during the winter months. 

December exemplified this warming trend, delivering temperatures 6.5 degrees above average! January so far has been 4.4 degrees below normal. 

Averaging out these two winter months, the winter of 2021-2022 has been milder than normal thus far. 

When you step outside, keep in mind the difference between weather and climate! Even in a warming world, cold spells and big snowstorms will strike from time to time. But overall, winter is growing warmer over time.

Why does this matter? Warmer winters in general and shorter cold spells in particular come with consequences that extend into the spring and summer.

Credit: WTOL

Here are some fast facts from our region for reference:

  • In Toledo, our longest winter cold snap is now about 8 days shorter since 1970.
  • From 1970 to 2021, 97% of the 244 stations analyzed nationally have experienced shrinking winter cold snaps.    
  • Cold snaps shrunk by six days on average across all 244 stations since 1970.