A look at weather extremes and the big-picture climate connections.

Science Made Simple: Take the Dog for a Walk

Oftentimes scientists and journalists make the simplest of scientific concepts sound incredibly complicated. Take the difference between climate and weather, for example. The old adage is that "climate is what you expect, weather is what you get," since day-to-day weather may depart significantly from average conditions. But that doesn't really tell you much about how climate is measured over the long-term, or when weather ends and climate begins. The explanation I like best comes from the comedian Stephen Colbert, when, during a segment with Climate Central's Heidi Cullen, he said: "Is not climate just made up of thousands of little weathers?"

Or consider this delightfully clear cartoon posted on Youtube that uses a unique analogy — a man walking his dog — to describe the differences between weather and climate. It's simple, to the point, and best of all, adorable. Check it out. 

« Extreme Planet


By Stu Ostro (Atlanta, GA)
on January 5th, 2012

Where *exactly* does weather “end” and climate “begin”?  And what if the doggie’s deviations are increasingly large, frequent, and more in a particular direction?

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By Andrew
on January 5th, 2012

Good questions, Stu. I think a global warming cartoon would depict an increasingly meandering dog, with the owner struggling to keep up smile

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By Rick Kline (Ithaca, NY 14850)
on December 15th, 2013

Stu, et al,

Weather is what happens to the atmosphere in the short term, while climate is essentially weather averaged over a longer time span - typically 30 years or so.  We can have record freezing temperatures on a particular day without that event’s having anything to do with the longer-term climatic trend known as global warming.

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By Dave Snider (Eagle River, AK)
on January 5th, 2012

Great explanation… I’ll be sharing. 

And great point, Stu. 

Andrew, what if the dog is pulling a sled… with 9 other dogs?

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By drjohn
on January 10th, 2012

It’s actually simpler than that.

When it’s hot, it’s climate change. When it’s cold, it’s weather.

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By todd
on January 15th, 2012

drjohn, that is what an overzealous climate change campaigner might say. An overzealous climate change denier might say the opposite. A climate scientist statistically analyses the data and comes up with the same result as everyone else who statistically analyses the data… The climate is warming.

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By Ann H Csonka (Herndon, Virginia 20170)
on February 2nd, 2012

THANK YOU!  This is great and I’ll share it widely because non-science people DO get confused.

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By john harkness
on November 28th, 2013

The dog is in the process of pulling us over a cliff.

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By Michael Rawlins (Amherst, MA)
on December 14th, 2013

John, the situation is more analogous, it would seem, to the case where even if energy taken in by the dog owner were to be reduced, stored energy would enablle him to continue up the hill until ‘equilibrium’ is reached.

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