Climatology vs. Meteorology

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The start of 2020 has been wetter than normal in North Idaho and across the rest of the Inland Empire. At Cliff’s station in northwestern Coeur d’Alene, over 6.50 inches of rain and melted snow has fallen since the first of the year. That compares to a normal of just over 4.50 inches.

In terms of snow, our seasonal total is 59.1 inches, which is about 5 inches normal to date. Cliff and I believe that if much of the precipitation had fallen as snow rather than rain, our seasonal total would be close to 100 inches.

Although, we still plan on seeing snowfall amounts near to above average across the region for the 2019-20 season, sea-surface temperature pattern in the south-central Pacific Ocean have been more “neutral,” or in a La Nada event since late last year.

We did get the moisture and the extremely low sunspot activity, but ocean waters were not cold enough to help keep air temperatures down in order to give us more snow than rain. Remember, a few degrees can make a huge difference between rain and snow.

Perhaps we’ll have another opportunity next season as sunspot activity is still expected to be very low. However, we also need at least a moderate “La Nina,” the cooler than normal sea-surface temperature pattern to give us a chance for a big snowy year across the Inland Northwest.

In the meantime, a northwest flow is expected to develop over the area toward the middle to the end of this week, and into the following. The long-range computer models are showing this chilly pattern with an increasing chance of snow in Coeur d’Alene and surrounding areas.

Over the last month, I’ve been asked by several people on the difference between a meteorologist and a climatologist.

Meteorology is the study of the atmosphere and its phenomena, plus its interaction with the earth’s surface oceans and life in general. The term itself goes back to the Greek philosopher Aristotle. He wrote a book about 340 B.C. on natural philosophy entitled “Meteorologica.” It was the sum of weather and climate at that time.

Meteorology became a genuine natural science toward the end of the 16th century (1583) when a crude thermometer was invented by Galileo. It wasn’t perfected, however, until 1714 by Gabriel Daniel Fahrenheit. In 1643, the barometer was created to measure air pressure. In the late 1700s, the hygrometer, an instrument to measure the air’s water vapor content, was also invented.

The science of meteorology progressed as better instruments were developed. It became more widely recognized by the 1950s as high speed computers were created to help solve equations that described the atmosphere’s behavior. Today, computer models have become so sophisticated that short-term and even long-term forecasts have become more accurate.

There are a number of schools that offer degrees and courses in Meteorology which often take up to 4 years of study to obtain a degree.

The science of climatology deals with the statistical side of the weather. It involves the long-term, or historical research of a particular region’s climate. Many vital meteorological factors are studied such as temperature, wind direction and velocity, cloud cover, relative humidity, barometric pressure and precipitation patterns. We also chart sea-surface temperatures in the oceans, particularly in the Pacific (El Nino and La Nina), jet stream patterns, dendrochronology (tree rings), volcanic cycles, tidal cycles, solar (sunspot) cycles, lunar cycles, etc. etc.

Climatology takes what is learned from a specific region’s past weather history and attempt to apply this data to what is likely to occur in the climatological future. In other words, this science deals with long-term and historical weather events and cycles. Some of the data analyzed will show the possible social and economic effects of such long-term predictions in regards to agriculture, business, commodity markets and other weather-related entities.

Many Fortune 500 companies will often use climatologists for long-term forecasts to increase their business sales, or make higher profits in the commodity markets. For example, a well-known soda company did use our service to find out where it was going to be hot many summers ago in order to send more soft drinks to that particular location. Others will want to know if long-term heat or cold cycles will affect food crops that would soon lead to higher prices.

Applied climatology has developed quite rapidly in recent years and has become an extremely sophisticated science. Climatologists use long-term computer model technology as well as their own climatological forecasting experience. Accuracy depends on finding the right matching pattern or cycle for a particular region.

And, climatologists will use local and global climate history as well as the natural or human-induced factors that cause changes to climate and help predict our climate’s future.

• • •

Contact Randy Mann at

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