Tuesday, August 6, 2013

People Confuse Weather and Climate

As humans we do not live long enough to be able to really notice changes in climate.  To notice the change that is going people need to have lived in the same spot for half a century as an adult and paid attention to the natural world.   Very, very few people have done this or are capable of doing this.   People see individual weather events as an indication of a climate change.

I am almost 48 years old but I do not honestly remember if there has been changes to weather from the 1960s or 70s because I was not old enough to really know the climate.   Since I have been an adult I have lived the longest in the Lillooet region, 9 years and Victoria for 9 years, neither of these are long enough for me to see the trends on an observational level.

Weather is what happens every day and we remember the extremes we experienced within our life.  Climate is the context within which the weather happens.  Climate is the long term reflection of the norm, it is an average of what happens which means you need a long data series to know what normal is and to know if there is change happening.  

To understand climate we need hundreds of years of data and know how all the data is affected by local changes because of human civilization..A ten or twenty year data set tells us very little unless we can compare it to the past.  What we as people remember is the weather, the anomalies over the short term.

Someone that has lived in the same rural location for 50 or more years and had to pay attention to the climate might be able to know enough to see a change.   Are plants sprouting earlier?  Is it wetter or drier?  Is there a longer frost free period?

I love the fact that for Victoria we know have close to eight years of weather data for a multitude of locations across the city.   But this data does not tell me if there is a change in climate.  I am beginning to be able to see patterns in microclimates in Victoria and even close to where I live, but it is not enough to know what is really normal and what is not.   I have better information on the frost free period but not enough to be certain it may not come late in the spring or early in the fall.    I also do not have five decades of personal experience in this neighbourhood.

We need a lot more detailed microclimate data to know what may be happening but it will be hard to recreate the data from decades or even centuries ago with enough precision needed to matter.

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